Academics aim to raise €1 million for underprivileged kids

Summary

The coronavirus crisis has inspired Flemish universities to launch a campaign for greater social solidarity

1000x1000

Sixteen current and emeritus professors from universities across Flanders have launched a campaign to raise €1 million for disadvantaged children. Moved to act by the coronavirus crisis, they are also calling for fairer taxation and a new social contract.

By lunchtime on Saturday the counter on the 1000x1000 campaign website stood at €180,000, although VRT reported that pledges had been received up to €500,000. “The campaign has clearly touched many hearts,” said Bea Cantillon, a professor of social policy at Antwerp University, who is one of the academics behind the initiative.

The campaign emerged from a feeling that, despite the challenges face by universities during the corona crisis, academics had got off lightly. “At no point in the sudden switch to online teaching were we forced into unemployment,” the group says in its appeal. “At no point did the salaries of senior academic staff ever come under threat. For many others, the picture was much less favourable.”

These children have suffered the most under the new school system, partly because of limited access to e-learning

In particular, families with lower socio-economic backgrounds, living in densely populated neighbourhoods, have struggled with unemployment, poor housing conditions and feelings of insecurity. “Their children have suffered the most under the new school system, partly – but by no means exclusively – because of limited access to e-learning,” the group says.

For this reason, the campaign is hoping to find 1,000 academics willing to donate €1,000 each to the King Baudouin Foundation’s work with underprivileged children and young people. The projects it has in mind are the Child Poverty Fund; the educational project Small Children, Big Opportunities; and Boost, which supports talented youngsters.

While aimed at senior academics, smaller donations from the academic community, or from any member of the public, are also welcome.

Social reform

As well wanting to make a concrete difference, the academics have a broader point to make about fairer taxation and greater social solidarity. This goes for the present crisis and the way we address future challenges, such as the shift to a knowledge economy or adapting to climate change.

“The campaign shows that we want to make an effort ourselves, but also that we want a new social approach from our politicians,” said Jean-Michel Rigo, vice-rector for research at Hasselt University.

“Only a structural approach can make a difference in the long term,” he went on. “For example, underprivileged young people are often low-skilled. Their training must be adapted so that they can participate in the new economy.”

As for higher education, the academics call on their colleagues to pay special attention to students who are struggling with the consequences of the coronavirus.

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