26 Jan 2017

Erasmus+ student mobility applications: paperwork aplenty

With the upcoming Erasmus+ Key Action 1 deadline on 2 February, many of us are grappling with the application process. In this blog post, two Erasmus coordinators – at Metropolia UAS, Finland and NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands – reflect on the implications of the last three years of the programme.
 
 
 
 

When Erasmus+ was introduced and the first outlines of the programme were published, universities’ expectations were high. In the area of student mobility, the European Union promised a budget extension and an increase in ‘user-friendliness’. Three academic years later, what is the reality of Erasmus+? We asked two universities of applied sciences to share their experiences and tell us if the expectations had become reality.

Metropolia UAS, Finland

For Metropolia UAS, Erasmus+ is a vital instrument in the attainment of its strategic ambition to see 20% of its students study abroad by 2020. Erasmus+ Key Action 1a on student mobility accounts for 65% of the institution’s outgoing exchange. Moreover, as a comprehensive higher education institution with approximately 16,000 students, Metropolia UAS greatly values the opportunities that the programme brings for the internationalisation as well as for capacity building with its overseas partners. Erasmus+ Global Mobility is a great instrument for this.

The numbers

The actual application process and procedure (KA1 – Learning Mobility of Individuals, Higher education student and staff mobility within programme countries), is not too complicated in itself. Yet this may well be the only relatively simple part of the procedure. Of course it’s crucial to calculate the figures for the coming academic year not only properly, but perhaps even excessively. You have to understand and remember the correct numbers for a reported year – and also be careful with the estimated figures of the current year! In our experience with previous grant rounds, you will likely receive less funding than you apply for.

 
Meanwhile, we often have more mobility periods than expected – and need to write the applications before being able to predict the numbers. Other matters are quite frustrating. For instance, we used to have a good system in place, whereby leftover grants could be awarded to students who needed them retroactively. This opportunity now no longer exists. Another difficult matter is calculating the accurate length of mobility periods – why do we have to spend time counting single days?

NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands

At NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands our experiences with the Erasmus+ Programme are similar to those at Helsinki Metropolia UAS. At my institution, however, we use the Erasmus+ Key Action 1 in order to support our ambition to ensure that 60% of students earns at least 30 ECTS abroad. Hearing the first outlines of Erasmus+, we felt a sense of relief about having less paperwork to deal with and perhaps the start of the digitalisation of the process. The budget extension looked promising. Three years later, the relief has turned into some disappointment, as the paperwork isn’t quite as simple as initially promised.

Ongoing issues

Our experience shows that students find the rules and regulations of the paperwork requirements hard to navigate and the deadlines hard to meet – as it is not only up to them to sign papers. NHTV sees Erasmus+ as a tool for financially stimulating students to go abroad. Unfortunately, the budget is rather limited and not all students are fortunate enough to receive a scholarship. Even when they do, restrictions often apply. Luckily, the mobility tool does provide a good overview of how much is left to be allocated in the budget. On the downside, this is a system on its own that can’t be connected to other systems, such as the Online Language System.

 
A final disappointing aspect of Erasmus+ that remains a hot topic for us is digitalisation. At NHTV, the most frequently asked question by our students is: In this day and age, why can’t we hand in the paperwork digitally and sign it digitally? It’s a very fair question! Why do the Erasmus+ guidelines require us to print, scan, e-mail and fax all this paperwork?

 

Expectation vs reality


Have the expectations for Erasmus+ become a reality? We are not there yet. Perhaps if there was an opportunity to provide our feedback to European Union directly, practitioners like us could share our views on improving the programme – such as finding ways of diminishing paperwork! In addition to the ever-increasing pressure on staff, it is vital to keep participation in the programme attractive, both for academic leadership and administrators.

 
In this blog post, Erasmus Institutional Coordinator at Metropolia UAS, Päivi Hellén and Erasmus Institutional Coordinator at NHTV, Carina van Dodewaard-Appel were interviewed by Tiina Piipponen (Metropolia) and Virginia van der Ster (NHTV).