|The Association for Community Colleges (ACC) considers the formation of a European public sphere a precondition for a future vivid European democracy.
Since 1999 ACC has been focused on the educational preconditions for the formation of a European public sphere. The inspiration to found ACC came from Højskolen Østersøen's so-called Minority Courses 1997 and 1998 and from the philosophy of Jürgen Habermas (1929- ).
ACC is having a long break for the time being. To the best of our knowledge, the ACC’s main idea has been considered at highest level in the EU institutions. This was a first major goal of the ACC and its cause. The next steps are seriously challenging. States need to be involved either/or private money should finance the transnational democratization of Europe. Facing these possible paths, we felt it is time for a period of reflection.
This is ACC
ACC is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-partisan organisation that works for the development of a European (transnational) public sphere.
The main idea of ACC is that an ideal way to promote this objective would be through establishing European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler). European Community Colleges should become a new, decentralised, common school type for Europeans that should preferably work under common law.
The methods and format of eventual European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) as imagined by the ACC are inspired by the boarding school format of the Nordic folk high schools (folkehøjskoler). They date back to the times and ideas of N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872).
By bringing European adults together in the informal atmosphere of European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) the ACC wishes to create space for European adults to meet, learn and share experiences, opinions, and discuss topics important to them.
The ACC defines European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) as schools that:
• take their starting point in an idea and an objective that is defined by a non-governmental group of citizens who run the school,
• have as their ideal boarding-school courses that last for a longer period of time (the longer the better),
• organise courses on topics of common (European) interest in accordance with the idea of the group running the school,
• are “governed by culture” in the sense that life at the individual schools could very well be influenced by local traditions and culture,
• have mixed groups of European adults as their target group; adults who have an interest in learning and in paying a share of the course expenses themselves.
The ACC is European and transnational
All the activities of ACC are per definition transnational and involve many countries. The involvement of ‘countries’, however, is secondary to the direct involvement of the citizens who happen to come from (not exclusively) European countries.
In fact, the nearly 600 members of the ACC come from the following states: Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and USA.
The highest authority of the ACC is the General Assembly that consists of the members. The General Assembly elects the Board.
Apart from the body of individual members that illustrate how important diversity and widespread geographical representation are for the ACC, the structure of the organisation consists of the ACC International Programme Office (until 2006 incl.) and a number of local ACC Committees formed for the purpose of organising specific European Community College Courses (europæiske højskolekurser).
While the ACC International Programme Office guaranteed continuity, the ACC Committees ensured that each individual project was carried out taking into account the very specifics of a particular region and/or topic.
European Community Colleges for a European public sphere
The ultimate goal of the Association for Community Colleges is more than ambitious. ACC wishes to see the formation of a European (transnational) public sphere come true.
The main strategy and the core idea of the ACC is that a unique way of promoting this objective would be through establishing European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) at common European level and all over Europe.
To reach the goal, the ACC combines policy work, lobbying, networking and research together with the actual carrying out of European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) with European participants discussing issues of common (European) interest.
The variety of topics of the European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) is dealt with in many different ways. Some of the topics may require input through lectures to ensure that the participants have the relevant amount of knowledge to be able to discuss later. Workshops are created so that the participants can debate a particular topic in smaller groups, and later plenary sessions make it possible to share the thoughts of groups and individuals and to get response from the rest of the participants.
An equally important part of the European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) is the getting to know one another. The participants involve themselves in different games and socialising events through the courses, and just as important is here the non-scheduled time, where the participants get the chance to learn about fellow Europeans.
The uniqueness of the ACC method lies in combining the formal, non-formal and informal learning aspects and placing the three of them into the framework of residential community colleges where everyone is a learner and a teacher at the same time.
Apart from acquiring knowledge and skills that enable them to participate as active citizens both at the local, national and transnational level, the participants create a sample European public sphere where they practice the art of co-citizenship – learning and living together while being enriched rather than hindered by diversity. This way they pass the stage of stereotype and put faces on the otherwise impersonal map of Europe.
By joining a European Community College course (europæisk højskolekursus) the participants enter a network of fellow Europeans who are now aware of each other and aware of the different aspects that play an important role in the decision making processes.
The diversity of the participants is a key element of European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler). There could be no cultural exchange if there was no diversity. The ACC therefore involves as many partners from various European countries as possible in each project.
Who does what?
The European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) have been organised by ACC Committees throughout Europe with the assistance of the ACC International Programme Office. This organizational structure enabled the effective sharing of know-how at a common level while running the individual projects in a decentralized way.
The ACC International Programme Office functioned as a resource bank with budget proposals, project descriptions, ideas and documentation material available to its members.
The office was also responsible for maintaining and updating the common website that serves both as reference point for ACC members and as a promotion portal displaying the results of ACC policy work, articles written and other material apt for dissemination.
Part of the website was the so-called “Multiplier”, a section that provided reference material such as project descriptions, budgets, high resolution photos for printing, guidelines etc. to be used by members wishing to organise their own events. The “Multiplier” was thus a resource base containing the experiences gained at previous European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser). The “Multiplier” was removed in 2009 due to lack of maintenance.
ACC is publisher of ACCENT
The ACC also works as a publisher.
Every year an Annual has been produced (2007 included) and it was distributed to members, partners and media all over Europe.
The magazine “ACCENT - Community Colleges for Europe” functioned as an opportunity for the ACC members and the organisers of European Community College courses to publish the results of an event.
ACCENT has been published with the following titles:
• “Europe of Rights Community College 2003. This is just a beginning” (ACCENT No. 1)
• “Transylvania Community College 2003. Youth Proposal for a Common European Constitution” (ACCENT No. 2).
• “European love and other challenges of enlargement” (ACCENT No. 3)
• "A European Demos" (ACCENT no. 4)
The ACC is also the co-publisher of the “European songbook” compiled by Naomi Woltring and featuring 44 songs from all over Europe.
ACC seeks to influence
As part of the work for establishing European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler), ACC has been active as a kind of lobby organisation.
Particularly the preparation and policy development of Youth and other programmes of the EU has had the attention of ACC. Time and again there are chances to express opinions in this process.
The aim of contributing to the development of a European public sphere can be served even better via new generations of EU programmes. Under headlines like “participatory democracy” and “citizenship in action” the ACC has attempted to point out where current programmes limit possibilities. The ACC opts for the opportunity to organise real European educational events for all layers of society.
Course curricula, recruitment and committees
The European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) organised by the ACC Committees have focused on various topics.
The origins of the ACC date back to the Minority Courses organized at a Danish Folk High School, Højskolen Østersøen, in 1997 and 1998. Minority issues have also been the theme of some of the European Community College courses arranged later on – the future of minorities in the EU and the rights of minorities in the EU. Human Rights have also been the guiding topic of European Community Colleges; as well as European citizenship and European identity.
In order to develop a European public sphere it is also important that the public is aware of the political and social system of the EU. Several European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) have focused on the different aspects of and developments in the EU; such as the European constitution, European policies, EU enlargement, rural Europe, political representation in Europe and the system of European political institutions.
The ACC has or have had committees in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and United Kingdom, as well as several transnational committees. The committees work within the ACC to establish European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) and they use the ACC for networking and promoting their activities.
The recruitment of participants takes place at European level thanks to the wide network of partner organisations and individual members willing to promote ACC activities. The active involvement of participants throughout the individual Community College courses happens naturally by putting emphasis on sharing, valuing of input, cherishing diversity and challenging stereotypes.
The impact of ACC’s initiatives
The impact of the work of the ACC can be seen at several different levels.
Each individual participant of any of the European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) could give a personal testimony mapping his/her development in terms of knowledge, skills, values, friendships and networks developed. The steadily growing number of members of the ACC shows that individual Europeans have been influenced by their participation in the European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) and wish to support the idea of establishing European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) as a pathway towards a European public sphere.
The ACC committees and their local and European partners have developed the precious know-how enabling them to effectively run transnational events with a specific common theme and guided by local culture.
In order to enhance and multiply this know-how, a number of Community College courses have worked with the very idea of establishing permanent European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler). One of the outcomes of such an event was the preparation of the “Act on European Community Colleges” (europæisk højskolelov), which set up the guiding principles for a future First European Community College (FECC).
Another important part of developing the idea of European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) is to be able to learn from previous experiences, to learn from each other. The ACC has therefore established the Bridging Community Colleges where organisers of previous Community Colleges can meet with future organisers to exchange and develop ideas.
The Bridging Community Colleges has resulted in many concrete ideas for new European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser). ACC as an organization has thus matured and can provide guidance and support to groups and individuals who share its vision of becoming active European citizens by engaging in a debate with fellow European citizens within the format of a Community College course.
Similarly to impact, success can be recognized and tracked at many different levels within the scope of activities of the ACC.
Each individual positive evaluation at the end of a European Community College course, every new member of the ACC, every group of active Europeans setting up an ACC Committee and willing to put a lot of effort, time and energy into organising a European event – all these are an expression of success of the ACC work.
Recently, the EU part of Europe has been facing some turbulent times due to the complicated ratification process of the European Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. “Europe in crisis”, however, revealed the potential of and the need for the kind of meeting places that the ACC has been campaigning for ever since 1999.
After the referenda in France and the Netherlands, Scandinavian papers reported about EU-commissioner Margot Wallström’s plans to develop democracy through European citizens’ meetings of many kinds. The major plan, launched under the title Plan D, seemed to mirror the two concrete proposals formed by participants of European Community College courses: the “Action 6” and the “Act on European Community Colleges”; and in the wider sense everything that ACC has stood for since 1999.
Plan D was meant to allow European citizens to meet and discuss issues of common interest and thereby develop the much demanded European public sphere. For example, Mrs. Wallström has been quoted for saying that: “EU should and could support the building up of a pearl-chain of forums leading through Europe – a sort of People’s Universities or Folk High Schools” (translated from Swedish – Svenska Dagbladet, June 4th, 2005).
This is what the ACC has accomplished a number of times. It has arranged European Community College courses (europæiske højskolekurser) and proved that the idea works. By bringing Europeans together it has created the fora needed for developing a European public sphere - even if only small scale.
The work of the Association for Community Colleges was also recognized by the Organizational Development Network (ODN) who appreciated the ACC’s ability to work transnationally, adjusting and switching between the centre and periphery (the Office and the Committees) while not having money as a motivating factor and depending only on voluntary work.
The global potential of this approach convinced the Organizational Development Network that ACC deserves to be the recipient of the 2004 Outstanding Global Work Award, which was presented to the chairperson of the ACC in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Association for Community Colleges combines the work for a long term vision with proving the viability of that vision by carrying out events that prove what would otherwise be just empty statements. It is this symbiosis that gave the organisation the necessary amount of self-confidence and strength to carry on in spite of relying on volunteer work and ad-hoc funding for most of its events. It is the same symbiosis that allows for continuous learning from own mistakes and refining of strategies and best practice.
There is no doubt that without the extensive network of partners, supporters, sympathizers and members, the ACC Committees and the ACC International Office would not have been able to carry out its work – neither at the wider policy level nor at the level of specific projects.
They key is the European bottom-up approach
Factor of each and every individual project completed by the Association for Community Colleges is the synergy created by bringing Europeans together and giving them the space and tools necessary to explore complex issues of common interest.
It makes all the difference whether you discuss democracy, active citizenship, human rights etc. in a classroom full of people with similar cultural background, identity and value system or whether you make the very same issues alive by handing them over to a transnational polity.
A small sample of European public sphere with participants as diverse as possible transforms the topics discussed from an academic and impersonal list into issues that matter in the daily lives of the participants; they can be illustrated by personal stories and experiences and they only make sense at the European level when discussed and explored by Europeans themselves.
The Association for Community Colleges has proved at numerous occasions that its mission has validity and that the establishment of European Community Colleges (europæiske højskoler) would enhance active citizenship and democracy at the European level by creating a common European public sphere.
The ACC Board currently (2019-20) consists of the following persons:
• Perrine Martin (Skødstrup), chairperson
• John Petersen (Skopje), treasurer
• Joan Bødker Pedersen (Aarhus)
• Elisabeth Alber (Bolzano)
With the support of the European Community budget line"Support for international non-governmental youth organisations" 2000-2006. The opinions expressed by the ACC do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Community, nor does it involve any responsibility on its part.
|Association for Community Colleges
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