The next Erasmus program is set to offer new opportunities for students and staff in higher education through formats including blended mobility: the combination of short-term physical mobility with a virtual component.
“From the very start, our priority was to be as flexible as we possibly could”
In a panel session chaired by Douglas Proctor of University College Dublin, speakers from the European University Foundation, the European Commission and the Romanian National Agency for Erasmus+ (ANPCDEFP) discussed the opportunities for student mobility this year, and how the new Erasmus program will support new types of mobility if traditional physical mobility is not feasible.
“Early this spring, we had to come up with crisis management responses to help students and staff members that were already on mobility when this Covid-19 situation erupted,” noted Harpa Arnarsdottir of the EC.
“So from the very start, our priority was to be as flexible and to facilitate mobility any way we could.”
Arnarsdottir explained that they have entered an interim phase, one where “we are proactively allowing universities to implement blended mobility so students and staff members can start mobility online and then go abroad if and when it becomes possible”.
“Of course, we want as many people as possible to be able to carry out their mobility and to have it take place as close as possible to their original plans,” she continued.
“But in the event that this is not possible, this sort of blended implementation will be permitted.”
However, Arnarsdottir added: “Let’s not confuse the blended mobility that’s happening today with the blended mobility of the new Erasmus program where you are participating in a mobility that has been designed to be blended and not a crisis response.”
Nicoleta Popa of ANPCDEFP said the support from the EC – such as flexibility to ensure that mobilities can continue and that mobility projects have more time to reach the results that are expected – was welcome, but that it has been “a tough ride” to understand all the rules and find ways to implement them and explain them.
“We are still finding the way through the labyrinth,” she added.
“Naturally, we have already seen at a national level that there has been a decrease in the number of mobilities that have been started so far this autumn. But there is still interest in the traditional physical mobility that the Erasmus+ program offers to students.
“So some of the mobilities that were supposed to begin this semester may have been postponed, that hopefully they will start in the second semester.”
Delegates attending the session raised questions over the flexibility that will be there in the future in relation to blended mobility over traditional mobility, which not all students may want to go for.
But Popa was quick to point out that physical mobility will remain at the core of the program, with blended mobility introduced to support it.
“The solutions that are envisaged for the future program are intended to help us introduce flexible ways to implement mobility without replacing what we have been doing so far,” she said.
“In the future program, blended mobility is connected to short term mobility. So let’s say in order to attract more participants to the Erasmus program and students that come from backgrounds with fewer opportunities or students with families, part-time mobility is more feasible for them.
“But in order to expand the benefits of short term mobility, a virtual component will be added and will be compulsory to this ‘new’ type of mobility.”
Echoing Popa’s point, Valère Meus of the EUF said that blended mobility is more about preparation for mobility.
“It is very helpful in getting students who are a bit worried about it over the threshold and into real mobility.
“So I think it will be a very good tool to make sure that even more people will go on actual mobility, whether short term or long term.”
“In the future program, blended mobility is connected to short term mobility”
In order to make mobility a realistic and inclusive option for all students, Meus pointed out, Erasmus digitalisation projects such as the Inter Institutional Agreement manager will come in to play.
“One other obvious example is the Erasmus app,” he said. “It’s not a tool on a computer, it’s an app on a smartphone, and we know that the distribution of smartphones across the population is extremely high, much higher than computers.
“So the more we can play into what people are actually using, making sure that students can get all of their information from one place on the App and perhaps even most of their administrative tasks on their smartphone, the better.”
However, Arnarsdottir at the EC told delegates they can “rest assured” that physical mobility is the heart and soul of the Erasmus program.
“Traditional student mobility is what we want to emphasise and increase. The other aspects that we’re discussing are there to reach a broader range of students and try to get more to go abroad.
“We have to keep in mind that we are thinking long term here; it’s not just about digitalising Erasmus.
“We’re also thinking in the context of the European Education Area to help universities facilitate all types of mobility across the entire continent and beyond the Erasmus+ program.”