5.4 Young people's participation in policy-making
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Formal basis consultation where young people act as a group authorised to take a position and express their opinion is held at local (communal and municipal youth councils) and central levels (The Children and Youth Council operating under the authority of the Minister of National Education, The Polish Council of Youth Organisations (PROM), The Student Parliament of the Republic of Poland, The Children and Youth Parliament). Consultation at regional level is not formalised although there are, or were, youth representation structures in some provinces. A government expert’s opinion issued in 2005 and concerning the possibility of youth organisations participating in the system of public consultation accurately evaluates its principles, albeit it is perhaps too optimistic as to their implementation. “Under the regulations which are currently in force, non-governmental organisations representing young people’s interests may express opinions about proposed normative acts, governmental, regional and local programmes, they may initiate activities for youth, disseminate the idea of voluntary service and conduct informative activities”.
Consultation exercises with the participation of young people mainly focus on issues relating to the situation of youth. They relate to education, especially higher education, school students’ and students’ rights, but also to activities shaping the principles of youth participation in public life, membership of organisations, supporting active participation, etc. Youth can be one of the groups that are involved in consultations concerning infrastructural investments, mainly in sport, recreation or culture.
At local level, the consultation process usually consists of the youth council or its internal commission adopting a particular stance, which is preceded by a debate aimed at familiarising themselves with the specifics of the subject matter. Sometimes on account of the initiative of young people, consultation exercises adopt a more interesting character. Public debates, plebiscites and surveys as well as happening-like activities are the most frequently organised events. At central level, consultation usually consists in the relevant body adopting a given stance on a particular matter. Most of the time stances are taken after debates which conclude in a round of voting. They are then publicly announced and submitted to the institutions concerned.
In Poland there is no special system of social consultation which would recognise young people as a particular group. Youth participation in the process of developing political governance follows the demarcation line determined by formal and legal statuses linked to the boundaries of youth. The first of them is age-related. As Polish young people come of age, they may access all legal forms of participation in public and social life. They can vote, participate in public consultation, join organisations and participate in all sorts of protests.
At the same time, there are no mechanisms which would facilitate the distinction of all young adults regardless of their socio-economic status or gender. On the other hand, being able to influence certain aspects of political reality is an attribute of certain youth groups - for example students whose representatives are statutorily included in the process of consultation concerning legal changes in higher education institutions. The effectiveness of informal political measures, such as protests or demonstrations initiated by youth which can be seen as a source of specific political decisions, is quite a separate matter. In this case there are two problems: how to objectively measure the youth percentage in particular protests, and - if the participation of young people is beyond doubt - how to prove their influence on politicians’ particular reactions.
In the case of the only youth-specific form of political participation laid down in legislation; that is communal and municipal youth councils, the limits to youth participation in policy-making at local level are described only in general terms. At the same time, there are no government directives at national level which would obligate state institutions, government agencies or other entities to conduct consultation exercises within youth communities as such. Any legislative initiatives put forward as government proposals must undergo public consultation. However, the legislator neither specifies its methods nor clearly defines which groups would have to participate. Young citizens may participate in consultation just like all others, providing they have attained 18 years of age.
Young people’s presence in the political process is particularly visible in two areas. The first of these areas is science and higher education with undoubtedly the highest youth participation in the process of developing politics and evaluating various solutions. The other area is youth policy. As mentioned in the previous paragraph the Student Parliament of the Republic of Poland plays a consultative role and gives its opinion on all changes to legal regulations affecting students. Adopted standpoints taken by the Student Parliament of the Republic of Poland are publicly accessible. Four members of the Student Parliament of the Republic of Poland, indicated by the Student Council of the Student Parliament of the Republic of Poland, form part of the General Council for Higher Education (Rada Główna Szkolnictwa Wyższego). They are members of the Education Commission and the Economic and Legal Commission. During their two-year term of office, student representatives have the same powers as the remaining Council members. The tasks of the Education Commission include, amongst others: giving judgements on documents concerning the National Qualifications Frameworks for education areas; presenting proposals of model descriptions of learning outcomes for individual fields of study; giving judgements on draft regulations on education standards applicable to fields of study mentioned in Article 9(b) and Article 9(c) of the Act on Higher Education; giving opinions on legislation concerning higher education and on international agreements related to higher education concluded by the Republic of Poland; giving judgements on applications to provide post-graduate programmes mentioned in Article 8(8) of the Act on Higher Education; giving judgements on draft legislation concerning upper secondary education and on other legislation presented by the Minister of National Education; analysing motions presented by the Ombudsman for Graduates and concerning a decrease in the number of barriers preventing access to jobs in line with graduates’ fields of study, proposing areas of study-related initiatives resulting from analysis of the process of education and graduate employability; in the Economic and Legal Commission (Komisja Ekonomiczno-Prawna), student representatives and the remaining Commission members deal with: giving judgements on draft state budgets in the scope of the section for which responsibility is assumed by the minister responsible for higher education and the minister responsible for science; giving judgements on the principles of allocating budgetary subsidies to HEIs; giving judgements on matters concerning funds for science and higher education allocated in particular parts of the state budget which remain at the disposal of ministers indicated in Article 33(2) of the Act on Higher Education; giving opinion on the principles of awarding research grants and those for learning achievements under Article 21 (1) (39) of the Personal Income Tax Act; giving judgements on draft legislation relating to higher education and science; giving judgements on international agreements concluded by the Republic of Poland in the area of science and higher education: proposing initiatives focussing on economic and legislative matters pertaining to science and higher education (consolidated text Journal of Laws 2012, item 572 as amended).
The Young Researchers’ Council (Rada Młodych Naukowców) is another body operating under the authority of the Minister of Science and Higher Education. It was appointed as a consultative body in October 2015 on the strength of a resolution and its members were indicated by the Minister. The Council performs the following tasks: identification of the existing and future barriers to the development of young researchers’ careers; preparation of recommendations concerning instruments supporting young researchers’ careers; presentation of science funding mechanisms to young researchers; provision of support to young researchers liaising with representatives of economic circles and institutions implementing innovative solutions in science; implementation of the provisions of EURAXESS and the Code of Practice while recruiting research workers in research units. The Council has successfully: changed regulations in ministerial grant programmes, modified the definition of a young researcher, introduced changes to post-doctoral thesis requirements, exempted various young researcher grants from tax, and undertaken activities aimed at a better presentation of Polish young researchers’ problems. The Council posts its adopted stances on its website.
Consultations in the realm of youth policy with the participation of national youth representations and youth organisations do not have a systematic nature. No wonder as consulting something which does not exist is rather difficult, and on the other hand youth organisations are too weak and lack the clout to make themselves heard.