Digitising Erasmus: no more paperwork

Digitising Erasmus: no more paperwork

In 2017, the Erasmus Programme celebrated its 30th anniversary. With the increase in students interested in international study, there is another increase as well: administrative paperwork. Over 1050 Erasmus+ coordinators were surveyed about tasks associated with the programme. The European University Foundation study found that 89% of respondents indicated that the workload surrounding the management of Erasmus+ exchanges is very high (Figure 1) and more than two-thirds expressed that the changes introduced with Erasmus+ have only increased their amount of work (Figure 2).

Paperless by 2021

The need for digitising paperwork was clear and the foundation for Erasmus Without Paper (EWP) was set. Under the guidance of Ghent University, a group of dedicated universities, university networks, the EAIE and student information system providers joined to discuss digitising the management of Erasmus. The goal? To make all higher education institutions paperless by 2021. This timeframe coordinates with the full roll-out of the European Higher Education initiative.

It is three years after the first EWP meetings and many higher educational institutions have now heard of this ambitious goal. One such institution is NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences. Like numerous other institutions, there were questions. As International Relations Manager at NHTV Breda, I contacted initiators of EWP – the European Foundation University (EUF) and the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) – to answer some of my burning questions.

What has happened up until now?

In its first three years, EWP built an IT infrastructure enabling the connection of in-house Student Information Systems (SIS) from all around Europe, thus enabling the transfer of student data between institutions. It includes the actual EWP Network and the EWP data standard. The pilot phase was successfully completed and we are currently running the second phase and extending our ambitions.

Can EWP be used by all higher education institutions (HEIs) and connect to European Commission tools?

Yes. Erasmus Without Paper is for everyone. For the HEIs that have created their own SIS, EWP is currently developing the Erasmus Dashboard – a management tool for Erasmus+ administration that is free of charge. This ensures no institution is left behind when Erasmus+ management goes fully digital. The Erasmus Dashboard is a cloud management tool for Erasmus+ motilities, which connects to the European Commission’s Erasmus+ student mobile app and the Online Learning Agreement (OLA).

The Erasmus+ mobile app offers services to support students throughout the mobility process. It includes functions such as a step-by-step guide, list of Erasmus events in the student’s area and allows HEIs to send push-notifications to their Erasmus students. The content is HEI specific and each institution can adapt the information to their incoming and outgoing Erasmus+ students.

The OLA platform offers a simple and convenient way for students to complete their learning agreement online. This includes the ability to have it signed, receive comments from their sending and receiving institutions as well as an overview of the final agreement. Additionally, the OLA status is displayed in the students’ Erasmus+ app and learning agreements can also be managed through the dashboard.

How will EWP be rolled out across Europe?

EWP is not only building a tool for universities, but creating an entire suite of tools and a network supporting the exchange between these tools. EWP is already operational and is being prepared to roll out to all European HIEs. The official launch is planned for December 2018.

As part of the industrialisation phase, the EWP consortium and the European Commission are currently building a connection between the EWP network, the Erasmus Dashboard and the Erasmus MobilityTool+. This will allow seamless reporting of all data existing in the network and allows universities to truly go paperless.

As an associate partner to the project, the EAIE strongly supports the digitisation of Erasmus. During the EAIE Annual Conferencein Geneva, you will have the opportunity to visit the EWP booth or attend one of the discussion sessions on the future of a digital Erasmus.

How is the student perspective accounted for in EWP?

The Erasmus Student Network has been part of the consortium since the very beginning. This guarantees that students, one of the main target groups of EWP, are at the centre of the discussion. Recent research conducted by ESN showed that bureaucracy keeps some students from applying for an Erasmus exchange, thus undermining a successful implementation of the programme. Younger generations are native to technology and are in general averse to lengthy paper-based processes.

If speaking students’ native language positively affects outcomes, it only makes sense that engaging in processes natural to students would, too. Moreover, paper can get lost and has a higher environmental impact – all topics relevant for millennials and Generation Z alike. ESN has been participating in EWP by providing this perspective – one heavily based on research.

ESN also provides communication services, both disseminating the results of the project on social media and other communication channels, as well as training ESN volunteers on the topic. These training sessions have empowered young people to better understand the processes targeted by EWP, eventually contributing to an increase in awareness among international relations officers.

And finally, how can HEIs implement EWP in their institution?

EWP is currently developing a competence centre that will offer support and guidance for HEIs. This centre will be launched together with the EWP Network in December 2018. Until then, you can become one of 25 university partners supporting the current test phase and preparing for the roll-out. Let us know you are interested in joining EWP at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EWP25. You can also register your institution and start testing the Erasmus Dashboard.

If you want to learn more about Erasmus Without Paper and stay updated about the latest developments, visit the project website.

Thank you to the following individuals for their contribution to this article:

Joachim Wyssling, Senior Project Manager, European University Foundation; Adriana Pérez Encinas, Lecturer and Researcher on Business Management and Internationalization of Higher Education, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Virginia van der Ster
Breda University of Applied Sciences, the NetherlandsVirginia is International Relations Officer at Breda University of Applied Sciences.

João Pinto
Erasmus Student Network, BelgiumJoão Pinto is President of the Erasmus Student Network.

Stefan Jahnke
European University Foundation, BelgiumStefan Jahnke is Senior Policy Officer at the European University Foundation.