Moving forward with Erasmus+

Moving forward with Erasmus+

Erasmus+ was launched in 2014, bringing together for the first time all EU programmes for education, training, youth and sport and introducing new measures to maximise quality, impact and access to the programme. Two years later, the first results are already tangible. The aim of this blog post is to look back on the first years of Erasmus+ and to reflect on the upcoming priorities in light of recent developments in policy and society. 

The launch of Erasmus+ marked the beginning of a new programme, but also the end of the preparation phase – an extensive period of consultations and energetic discussions on how the objective of more and better Erasmus should be reached. It was clear from the start already that the base of Erasmus+ – the previous Erasmus programme – was an excellent foundation to build on. Having provided mobility opportunities for more than three million students with high satisfaction levels, Erasmus has been the world’s best known mobility programme in the field of higher education for years.

Fighting unemployment through mobility

The Erasmus Impact Study, published in 2014, confirmed the importance of the programme for European society and economy. Looking at the results in more detail in 2015 allowed for some regional conclusions, namely that the impact of Erasmus is biggest where it is needed the most. Overall, going on Erasmus reduces the risk of long-term unemployment by half. Furthermore, this protection against unemployment has the strongest effect in Eastern and Southern Europe – the regions where long-term youth unemployment rates are the highest according to the Eurostat data.

Youth unemployment is one of the main challenges of our societies today, and we must ensure that young people in Europe are given the opportunity to create bright futures for themselves. We can only do this by designing our higher education systems in such a way that there is a bridge between academia and enterprise, so that our higher education graduates bring what the labour market needs to the table. Erasmus+ provides that bridge, not only through mobility opportunities for students and staff in companies, but also through cooperation tools such as Strategic Partnerships, Knowledge Alliances and projects that support policy.

Erasmus+ and social inclusion

Another challenge is one that we have been reminded of repeatedly and ruthlessly in the year that just passed. Terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen and the threat of such atrocities in other European cities revealed an imperative need to ensure that democratic values and fundamental rights are promoted and fostered in all areas, not least in education.

Furthermore, in response to the wave of migration to European countries, educational institutions and other organisations joined forces and explored ways to aid refugees. The European Commission has dedicated a website to the concrete projects that aim to tackle the refugee crisis in various fields ranging from employment, regional development, research and education to environment, humanitarian aid, energy and many others. This includes some of the many initiatives to integrate refugees in Europe’s education systems that are already taking place.

Erasmus+ supports a number of projects that aim at facilitating integration and addressing diversity. In 2016, the aspect of social inclusion in Strategic Partnerships will be reinforced even further through the quality assessment of projects. A specific call for proposals aiming at prevention of violent radicalisation and reaching out to the disadvantaged will be published under Key Action 3. The Online Linguistic Support system of Erasmus+ has been extended also, so that licences for language assessments and courses can be made available for refugees in 2016 within a specific framework. Finally, the work o facilitating the recognition of academic qualifications for refugees is ongoing.

We should not forget that Erasmus+ plays an important role in reinforcing mutual respect and international dialogue through the mobilisation of millions of students. Student mobility has a proven impact on adaptability, critical thinking and the acceptance of other people’s culture and attitudes. Therefore, by going abroad and by opening minds, Erasmus+ allows young people to acquire the social, civic and intercultural competences that Europe so greatly needs.

Erasmus+ brings down barriers

We have talked about the impact of the programme on young people, both on their career prospects and on active citizenship, but we can only be satisfied with such results if we have ensured that mobility is open to those that need it the most. This is why Erasmus+ is easier to access than previous programmes. The measures introduced with Erasmus+ to bring down financial barriers include:

  • Additional funding for those from disadvantaged backgrounds – already benefitting more than 10 000 disadvantaged students with top-up grants currently amounting to €6 million.
  • Additional funding for students from geographically remote areas (Martinique, Guadaloupe etc).
  • Additional funding for students with special needs. More than 800 students with disabilities have taken part in Erasmus+ so far, benefitting from provisions that commit institutions to make their mobility experience as smooth as possible.

Another major obstacle to participation and quality has been lack of language skills. With the new Erasmus+ Online Linguistic Support system, students are able to have their language skills assessed (306 000 students have already made use of this system) and improved through tutored courses (120 000 students have already made use of this system). The Online Linguistic Support will be extended to six new languages: Czech, Danish, Greek, Polish, Portuguese and Swedish in 2016 and other EU-languages will be added gradually throughout the programme period.

Higher quality of mobility

The reinforcement of the quality framework of Erasmus+ is already paying off. Preliminary results from the feedback of students reveals that 85% have received full recognition for their ECTS credits awarded abroad, compared to 73% in 2013. This indicates that the new measures are fulfilling their objective thanks to great efforts from all involved; but there is always room for improvement. For this reason, we are finalising a self-assessment tool called ‘ECHE – Make it work for you!’ in cooperation with National Agencies and higher education institutions. The tool will allow rectors, international relations offices, faculties and departments to assess performance and make improvements where needed.

Erasmus+: Make your voice heard

The year 2016 will be a time for reflection and looking forward. We are working on the mid-term review of Erasmus+ and will soon collect feedback from the public and various stakeholders in order to analyse to what extent the objectives of Erasmus+ have been reached. The analysis will run throughout 2016 and 2017 with results available at the end of 2017. We count on your support in making Erasmus+ fulfils its goal of contributing to a better Europe, and we look forward to exchanging ideas with you this year, at EAIE Liverpool 2016 and elsewhere.

Runa is Programme Manager and Vanessa is Head of Sector Erasmus+ Programme at the European Commission.

Stay tuned for more Erasmus+ news this week on the blog, as we have one more blog post coming up covering the programme’s performance over the last year and specific changes to Erasmus+ starting in the new year.