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Erasmus+ program not a “one-trick pony”, reports indicate

Students who partake in the European Commission’s principal exchange project – the Erasmus+ program – say they are more prepared for work than those who did not complete the program, and that it boosts a European sense of belonging, according to two new studies.

In 2016/17, France sent the most HE students abroad as part of the Erasmus+ program, with 43,905 students in total. Photo: Pixabay

Two out of three participating universities stated EU-wide projects contribute to increasing social inclusion

Based on feedback from nearly 77,000 students and staff and more than 500 organisations, the studies found that enrolling on the Erasmus+ program helped students find desired careers and get jobs quickly, and the program supports digital transformation and social inclusion.

“Erasmus+ graduates feel more ready to take on new challenges and have better career prospects”

Around 80% of Erasmus+ alumni were employed within three months of graduation, and 72% noted their experience abroad helped them get their first job.

Nine in 10 Erasmus+ students indicated they improved their ability to work with people from different cultures and felt they had a European identity, the reports showed.

Universities participating in Erasmus+ cooperation projects strengthen their international cooperation and innovation capacity by making use of new technologies and innovative teaching and learning methods.

More than 80% of academics reported that experience abroad helped develop more innovative curricula, while two out of three participating universities stated EU-wide projects contribute to increasing social inclusion and non-discrimination in HE.

“Erasmus+ graduates feel more ready to take on new challenges, have better career prospects and are more aware of the benefits the EU brings to their daily lives,” Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics said.

“At the same time, universities that take part in Erasmus+ are not only more international but also better placed to respond to the needs of the world of work,” he added.

The Erasmus+ is not a “one-trick pony”, director of Erasmus+ National Agency Higher Education at Germany’s DAAD Klaus Birk explained.

“It helps students job opportunities, it supports personal development and it leads to greater identification with Europe,” he told The PIE News.

“Many politicians have called Erasmus the most important and successful EU program,” Birk said, adding that 93% of students in Germany are registered at universities which participate in Erasmus.

“But there are still students who do not know about all the benefits and are reluctant to study abroad, mostly because they fear that it could extend their studies, which Erasmus explicitly tries to avoid by urging the universities to accept the learning outcomes of the partner universities (learning agreements, ECTS).”

Three points for improvement include simplification and less bureaucracy, inclusion, and the extension of the international dimension, Birk concluded.

Speaking with The PIE, director of SEPIE in Spain, Coral Martínez Iscar said the conclusions of the reports were “positive as an impact of what has been done and positive as a prospect of the near future”.

“This is a program that is 31 years old and we hope that it will have a very long life”

As well as helping students and teachers “find their path”, the program also enables them to have a “better perspective for the near future” while the international experience lets them become familiar with other cultures.

“[International experiences] reinforce the so-called social skills, which are so important right now because most people that are studying right now are studying for jobs that actually don’t exist [yet],” Martínez Iscar said.

“Erasmus+ also allows universities to get the gist of what they should be doing and what their role is. The impact study says that the Erasmus+ program allows them to be more inclusive, be more innovative, and to get a hold of what students and teachers need, such as digitisation,” she added.

Nevertheless, there are always areas of improvement Martínez Iscar noted.

“This is a program that is 31 years old and we hope that it will have a very long life. So there are areas we have to improve,” she said.

The Commission announced the program’s budget will be doubled, with the aim of tripling mobility numbers, Martínez Iscar also pointed out.

However, like Birk, she added that it needs to be more user-friendly.

“[We need to] reduce bureaucracy so that every participant feels that it’s not a very big burden bureaucracy-wise to participate,” she said, while another key area is making social inclusion a reality.

“This is a program that is 31 years old and we hope that it will have a very long life”

“By 2021, the European Universities Initiative should be up and running, which will boost the competitiveness of European higher education.”

Vice-president of the European Students’ Union Katrina Koppel welcomed the iterations of the Erasmus+ program as a “force for good for education in Europe”, but that the report lacked critical perspectives.

“Currently, Erasmus mobilities are difficult to access for students with disabilities, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, those with dependants etc,” Koppel said.

These groups could “benefit from Erasmus the most”, she argued, adding, “Unemployment and lack of sense of belonging remain the largest issues for those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

The ESU encourages the Commission to be more self-critical on this issue, she added.

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