The PIE: What is your role at SEPIE?
Coral Martínez Iscar: I am the director of SEPIE, a public body of the Ministry of Science Innovation and Universities.
SEPIE has two main tasks which are much more complicated than it might seem at first. We are the national agency for the Erasmus+ program, which receives the financial budget from the European Commission, and we also have a separate directorate… responsible for internationalisation. Other countries have several agencies, we only have one which encompasses all sectors, including schools, training and, of course, higher education.
“Spain is the first destination for all Erasmus students and it’s the third-biggest sender”
The PIE: Spain shows healthy student mobility figures, what is behind its success?
CMI: Spain is the first destination for all Erasmus students and it’s the third-biggest sender. There was a common objective when we approved the strategy for internationalisation of Spanish universities from 2015 to 2020. One of the goals was to enhance the ratio of international students, not only of outbound students but also inbound. Our mobility figures now prove that this strategy has been correct and we’ve been working hard to achieve our goals. Of course, there’s still a lot to do.
I also think that the Spanish language is currently the second most spoken in the world. It’s an important asset, as many students come from abroad to our universities because they want to learn our language or improve it.
The PIE: What else is being planned to enhance Spain’s internationalisation?
CMI: There are a lot of things that we must do to enhance our internationalisation.
It’s about the quality of our higher education, but also to promote this internationalisation we have to work on English-taught programs. Those programs are not only for international students that come to our universities and do not have a perfect command of Spanish, but also for our Spanish students that will want to continue their studies abroad, and want to ensure that they have a high enough level of English to actually be international students.
The Spanish language is currently the second most spoken language in the world, but we should also be working on our English-taught programs.
Internationalisation is important to Spain for two reasons. First of all, when we enhance internationalisation of our higher education, we promote higher quality of our own universities. The more competence in other higher education systems in other countries, the higher quality our universities will have.
Second of all, we live in a global world. Internationalisation is a key factor to ensure that our students, who will be our workers of tomorrow, have a global mind. The logo of the Erasmus+ program and SEPIE is “opening minds and changing lives.” That’s the gist of the idea.
The PIE: What about non-EU students?
CMI: The international directorate works on agreements abroad with many countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Singapore, India. Our goal is to have agreements to promote mobility, not only for students, but also for teachers and researchers.
The PIE: Do you work with the Cervantes Instituto to promote opportunities in Spain abroad?
CMI: Not as much as we should, but we have meetings scheduled. SEPIE is a public entity, and we have to work with our other public entities abroad – Cervantes is very well represented around the world. We also have Spanish education offices all over the world.
Every now and then, we have fairs abroad with Cervantes, but I’d like to boost the collaboration with them.
“Our goal is to have agreements to promote mobility, not only for students, but also for teachers and researchers”
The PIE: Tell me more about the offices abroad.
CMI: They are called Ceferia de Carahon, that would be like Spanish Education Offices Abroad. Some of them are in the embassy of the country, and others are separate physically, but on the whole they are part of the Spanish public system. They are in charge of promoting collaborations and agreements and trying to help us with international mobility. Right now we have 17 offices abroad, but of course we do have to work in other countries and in that case we should work with the Cervantes Institute, but also with Spanish embassies abroad.
The PIE: What is SEPIE currently working on?
CMI: Erasmus+ takes up so much of our time of course, and that is our core business. But we do have to hop on board with new challenges, and we have a new pilot scheme – the European Universities Network. It will be a key action in the next framework 2021-27. Not only is it a core project for the European Commission, but SEPIE is going to support the universities that join in this challenge.
The PIE: How independent can you be from the Commission in your work?
CMI: As a national agency, we have to use European funding as the EU asks us to. We have a general obligation towards dissemination of the Erasmus+ program. How we do that is our business, but we have to be effective. The commission doesn’t look so much into how we do it, but it wants results.
In the international directorate we have more freedom as to how we do it, but the core business of SEPIE is the internationalisation of education. Whatever we do in this directorate, we will see the positive effect for the Erasmus+ program.
We’ve also been working on our communication strategy. We are working on promoting a better communication of our international strategy, of what SEPIE does, of our actions. Currently, we have more than 5,000 projects, we can’t just work every day in the office. It’s also about telling others what we can do and what we can do for our Spanish education system.