Erasmus – the new programme generation

Erasmus is the EU’s success story: in 2017, the  programme recorded the most participants ever – 800,000 young people received funding.

Erasmus – die neue Programmgeneration
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For more than 30 years, Erasmus+ and its prede­cessor programmes have played an important role in the internationalisation of German higher education. In January 1986, the European Commission presented its proposal for a new action programme designed to promote student mobility. The programme was to bear the name ERASMUS – an acronym for EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of Uni­versity Students, and also a reference to the philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam. In 2014, all the funding lines that had previously coexisted side-by-side – for schools, universities, adult and vocational education – were combined to form the current programme generation, the Erasmus+ programme for education, training, youth and sport.

Tried and tested programmes will also be continued in the next phase

Nonetheless, little will change in the new period, notes Dr. Klaus Birk, Director of the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation at the DAAD, who is responsible among other things for implementing the Erasmus+ programme. “Following the extensive restructuring that was required by the merging of all the different sections at the start of the current programme generation, which also entailed some major technical challenges, we will be continuing tried and tested programmes in the next phase.”

The planned increase in the budget to 30 billion euros has been welcomed by all. As Birk explains, however, no hard-and-fast figures are available as yet because European parliament elections will be taking place this summer. “The possibility cannot be ruled out that conservative right-wing forces that take a significantly more critical view of issues such as internationalisation and Europe will see an upsurge in popularity.”

Two aspects in higher education are right at the top of the agenda: strengthening the international dimension of Erasmus, and thereby increasing cooperation with non-European countries, is a declared political objective and one that is shared by the National Agency at the DAAD. Meanwhile, one flagship initiative are the European Universities suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron; from 2021, they are to form part of Erasmus as a project line in their own right – an initial call for proposals ended in February 2019 and attracted a great deal of interest Europe-wide. Through this new line of funding, the European Commission wishes to inspire European universities to form alliances with a common strategic concept.

“The idea is that students and academics will be free within these consortia to decide where they wish to study and pursue research”, explains Nina Salden, head of the DAAD Branch Office Brussels. “This is a quantum leap in terms of cooperation between European universities and goes far beyond the current forms of strategic higher education partnerships.” There was much discussion in advance about the European Universities achieving a geographical balance: the European Commission expects the applicant consortia to involve partners from as diverse European regions as possible.

The DAAD proposes new forms of mobility and better supervision

While the Erasmus educational programmes had a strong focus on vocational employability in the years following the economic crisis, Klaus Birk sees a shift in emphasis in the new programme generation. “One ­focus is on the inclusion of young people for whom it is more difficult to study abroad“, he says. The National Agency at the DAAD proposes a combination of new forms of mobility, better supervision, digitisation and marketing so as to better reach target groups such as first-generation students or migrants. Funding of short-term mobility stays, virtual exchanges and blended learning could be possible steps along this path and is also provided for within the new Erasmus programme.
The current crisis surrounding the future of Europe is also reflected in the debate about the future of Erasmus: ideas and suggestions aimed at fostering European cohesion are being given considerably greater weight. In this context, alumni can also play an import­ant role, stresses Klaus Birk. “They are excellent am­bassadors for the European idea.”

Advancing the European idea with good initiatives  

He sees the “Europa macht Schule – Europe meets School” programme as a good example of how former Erasmus participants can get actively involved and advance the European idea. Former scholarship-holders organise events in schools at 40 locations, bringing current Erasmus students in to help. The visiting students from abroad present their countries or might cook typical dishes from their homelands together with the pupils.

To date, these activities have been financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Though the National Agency at the DAAD believes that such measures that are organised directly at universities would also suit the new Erasmus programme well, it stresses that they should remain decentralised.

“Successful initiatives require close supervision of those involved at the local level, and specific contact persons”, explains Klaus Birk. “If every application first has to go through Brussels, such projects will quickly run out of steam.”

The article was originally published here