On a panel discussing the milestone, European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas and commissioner for education for innovation, research, culture and education Mariya Gabriel talked about how Erasmus+ had become an integral part of the continent’s educational ecosystem.
“If the Euro is Europe’s wallet, Schengen is Europe’s passport, then Erasmus is Europe’s soul,” Schinas said during the panel.
“I have no doubt at the beginning of this process that no one was expecting it to be the soul of Europe. No-one would have predicted the tsunami of mobility, the emotions, the understanding this entailed through 35 years,” he continued.
Schinas then asked the 35 alumni of Erasmus+, who were invited to join the celebration to give views on their experiences, what they would like the organisation to improve going into the next 35 years.
One alumna, Eleni Theodorou, said she would like the provision of access to information for students with disabilities.
“It’s crucial that everybody knows it’s possible to be a European with a disability and move to another country and that there are the resources and technology for everything you need to succeed – inform the universities, inform the agencies… engage them,” Theodorou said.
“I have no doubt at the beginning of this process that no-one was expecting it to be the soul of Europe”
Markus Kraushoffer, a teacher whose students often join Erasmus+ programs, suggested that extra money for coordinators was needed. He told the panel that he spends all his free time making sure students have everything they need.
“Of course I love the sparkle in my students’ eyes when they go abroad and how they ‘have so many friends now’ in Europe, and that’s why I do what I do, but [money for coordinators] is one thing I would recommend the EU to change,” he said.
Hywel Ceri Jones, a significant member of Erasmus’ founding team as head of the Commission’s first department for education and youth policies in 1973, also took time to speak of how moved he was to be participating in such a celebration.
“In 1973, when we created the first Education department in the Commission, there was tabula rasa – there was 0.5% student mobility, and some countries were doing nothing at all.
“I look back with pride on the two political breakthroughs we made: in 1976, we launched the EU’s first education action program, and one article in that contained the seed of the Erasmus program,” he told delegates.
“And then, in 1987, we had the official launch of the Erasmus program itself. It took a 10-year period of experimental development with huge participation by universities and students to argue the case for the official Erasmus. That preparatory work should not be underestimated,” he added.