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What opportunities does Erasmus + offer for international education stakeholders?

Named after the Dutch scholar and theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) and also shoe-horned into a shorthand for EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, the Erasmus education programme has been with us since 1987.

Photo: DAAD

“Students and staff can now go on exchanges all over the world, not just in Europe"

So far the philanthropic initiative has seen more than 3 million students receive grants – growing from 3,244 students funded across 11 member states to a programme that last year awarded 268,143 students grants to study or train abroad and involves 33 member states and 90 per cent of Europe’s universities.

Without doubt the EU’s best-known education initiative, Erasmus has survived various restructurings. It has impacted lives immeasurably and is reported to have led to one million Erasmus babies!

The testimony to the success of the mobility funding programme, according to the EU’s own research, is borne out by findings released last year. Graduate with international experience were half as likely to experience long-term unemployment as those who had none, meanwhile 64% of employers said that international experience was important for recruitment.

The new Erasmus + programme arose after the EU’s Committee on Culture and Education decided to replace Erasmus and six other programmes with Erasmus+, to roll out between 2014 – 2020. The aim for Erasmus+ is to provide grants for up to 4m students, staff and researchers, funding will be increased by 40% to accommodate this; the budget totaling €14.5bn.

For the first time, the programme will provide financial support for people who want to do a full Masters degree in another European country

“Why are we doing this?” said Dennis Abbott, a former EU education spokesperson. “We’re doing this because we believe that international experience abroad really improves people’s skills and their employability.”

It’s certainly bigger, and is rolled out over three Key Actions: 1 – the mobility of individuals, students, staff and volunteers; 2 – innovation and best practice exchange between education, training and youth organisations; 3 – supporting policy reform through dialogue with stakeholders.

Meanwhile, it’s ‘better’ if you consider the lofty ambitions it is tied to – namely that Erasmus+ is part of the Europe 2020 targets to raise participation levels in higher education from 32% to 40% and reduce the percentage of early school leavers from 14% to less than 10%.

Furthermore, the EU target for student mobility is 20%, at least, by the end of the decade. At the moment about 10% of EU students (public and private) study or train abroad and around 5% receive an Erasmus grant.

Adam Tyson, Head of Unit for Higher Education and Erasmus, European Commission, points out that bigger and better means that “students and staff can now go on exchanges all over the world, not just in Europe, and the quality of the mobility will be even higher, with stronger preparation through on and offline language courses and more certainty about the recognition of study credits when students return home.”

Tyson also mentions that, for the first time, the programme will provide financial support for people who want to do a full Masters degree in another European country.

Erasmus+ hopes to help Masters students over the hurdle of obtaining commercial loans via its Student Loan Guarantee Facility established with the European Investment Bank.

By sharing the risk of possible defaults with lenders, the programme will offer students access to loans at what is termed ‘reasonable rates’, with a two-year buffer zone before any repayments start. The target set is to generate loans for around 200,000 Masters students between 2014 and 2020.

Erasmus + practitioners Kaiti Blanta & Dr Gareth Owens are keen to underline the importance of Erasmus + and its implications for staff and students. They are both institutional co-ordinators at Technological Educational Institutes (TEI) of West Macedonia, in various locations in Greece.

“In the Hellenic HEIs the Erasmus (International Relations) Offices are engines of change”

“On a national level, matters have been very difficult in Greece for the last five or six years or so, particularly in higher education,” relates Owens.

“On both a personal and professional level Erasmus+ is a beacon of light, a hope, that matters will indeed get better. In the Hellenic HEIs the Erasmus (International Relations) Offices are engines of change and modernization that will keep pulling the institutions in the right direction. “

He relates that TEI has implemented student and staff exchanges, collaborated in summer schools and strategic partnerships, allowing “both students and staff (academic and administrative) to reach their full potential by experiencing and meeting new challenges, in host countries”.

Generally regarded as a programme that encourages a bilateral understanding, Erasmus+ aspirations could be characterised as encouraging multiple outcomes, linking research, education and business at every opportunity, but also building networks involving multiple educational institutions.

Emma Boden from research and consulting team Ecorys UK, who, along with The British Council manage delivery of Erasmus+ in the UK (under the auspices of ‘The UK National Agency for Erasmus+’), gives a tangible example of such networks being created:

“The groundbreaking ‘Transforming Educational Practices in Autism’ project, led by the University of Birmingham, is one example of a successful Strategic Partnership project (funded under the 2014 Call for applications) with partners in Greece and Italy,” she explains.

The project aims to develop the skills of teachers and other school staff to meet the needs of children with autism aged between five and ten. It links the public, private and voluntary sectors together with a shared ethos for autism education. The project itself will create open resources targeted at school staff working with children with autism internationally.”

Boden also references the chance for FE colleges to get involved with sending staff and students on a European placement:

“There needs to be a minimum of two participating organisations, (one from the UK and one in Europe), but there is no limit to the number of these receiving organisations which can be included in the application,” she explains.

“Therefore an FE College could work with colleges in two or more EU countries and apply for Erasmus+ funding to send their students out to these organisations. The funding does not cover the incoming placements however, and so the respective European organisations would need to apply to their own National Agency for funding to send their participants to the UK.”

The co-operation with FE colleges is a first for this type of EU programme, Erasmus+ and there have been 75 applications for ‘cross sector’ arrangements between universities and FE colleges.

South Lanarkshire College has benefited from Erasmus+ to enable special effects make-up students to travel and study in Spain. Photo: SLC

South Lanarkshire College has benefited from Erasmus+ to enable special effects make-up students to travel and study in Spain. Photo: SLC

Lucy Flynn at South Lanarkshire College in the UK testifies that her institution is working with Institut Salvador Segui in Barcelona on an Erasmus+-backed exchange to enable further context for learning for their HND students.

“In their FX make-up class [in Spain], our students are going to benefit from learning about using resin to create and install prosthetic eyes, nails and dental resin implants!” she relates. “This additional knowledge, understanding and experience is going to greatly benefit the delivery of our Character, Special Effects unit.”

Realising a successful Erasmus + bid does involve of course a fair amount of liaison and bureaucracy for the applicant. But undeterred by admin, universities such as CEU Cardenal Herrera University in Valencia are enthused by the rejuvenation of the Erasmus scheme.

“In two years we doubled the number of students we sent to do Erasmus internships”

Inaki Bilbao, vice chancellor for Research and International Relations at the university, sets out what it means: “We have almost 200 bilateral agreements with other European universities including initiatives like Intensive Programs [a 2-6 week multinational study programme for students and staff from higher education institutions from at least three participating countries],” he relates.

“In two years we doubled the number of students we sent to do Erasmus internships and, in the academic year 2013-14, we doubled the number sent on study exchanges.”

Bilbao also nods to alliances of capacity building, consortia with other institutions, cooperation with other countries far beyond Europe, “United States, Canada, Asia, etc”.

In sum, he says, “Erasmus+ will, we hope, strengthen our relationships with strategic partner universities and maintain, or even increase, our current rates of exchange mobilities, boosting our potential as an HE institution on a global perspective.”

 

A longer version of this article appears in The PIE Review 6

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