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“Erasmus for All” sets the stage for a major increase in European student mobility

The European Commission has put forward proposals for a dramatic expansion and harmonisation of education, training, youth and sport support programmes in Europe. In particular, the Commission envisions a single pan-European mobility programme for the period 2014-2020 that covers all levels and sectors of education and includes all EU member-states.

The Council of the European Union has adopted some of the key aspects of the Commission’s proposals, with additional measures, including budget provisions, to be addressed in upcoming deliberations.

The so-called “Erasmus for All” programme set out in the Euro Commission proposal represents not only a unified approach to education support programmes in Europe, but also a substantial expansion of the EU’s investment in and commitment to internationalisation and student mobility.

The proposed budget of €19 billion over seven years compares to the current Erasmus budget of roughly €500 million for 2012-2013, and an overall EU budget for mobility programmes of nearly €7 billion for 2007-2013.

The expanded programme is projected to fund the international mobility of five million students, faculty, and staff for the period 2014-2020. Out of these five million mobility opportunities, the proposal anticipates that 2.2 million will be higher education students, 735,000 will be vocational education and training students, and another million will be faculty, youth workers, and other staff.

This represents a 50% increase in higher education mobility and a 100% increase in VET mobility as compared to programme participation for 2007-2013.

Of the proposed €19 billion programme budget, nearly €2 billion has been earmarked for cooperation with non-EU countries.

Europe’s current mobility investment encompasses the original Erasmus programme and three sister initiatives:

  1. Comenius for primary and secondary schools;
  2. Leonardo da Vinci for vocational education and training;
  3. Grundtvig for adult education.

The current, and highly regarded, Erasmus programme provides much of the inspiration and the context for this significant expansion of European mobility. About 10% of European students study abroad today, with roughly half of those receiving funding from Erasmus. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Erasmus programme saw record numbers of participation last year, when it grew by 8.5% over the 2009-10 academic year.

“The Erasmus scheme has been a catalyst for harmonisation,” said Dennis Abbott, a spokesman at the European Commission who was recently quoted in the New York Times.

A related article from the Guardian concurs as to the catalytic effects of the current Erasmus programme:

“More than in numbers of mobile students, the impact of the programme has been on the internationalisation and the reform of higher education. Erasmus has paved the way for the reform of European higher education under the Bologna Process, has been a pilot for its study point scheme ECTS [European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System], and was an initiator for the opening up to countries in central and eastern Europe to EU-membership, as it is for current aspiring candidate members. The programme stimulated both national governments and institutions of higher education to develop European and international strategies.”

Critics point out that the Commission’s programme proposal is ambiguous in some important respects, and that this may lead to a weakening of the original Erasmus mission. ScienceGuide notes in particular the critique of the Brussells-based Academic Cooperation Association (ACA):

“ACA is afraid that the lack of clarity in the Commission’s proposal will lead the European Parliament and the Council to transform the proposal into ‘anything the current political climate would like it to be – a panacea for all the social problems facing Europe today – and not what the programme was originally designed to do.’

The ACA also points to the lack of detail in the ‘Erasmus for all-proposal’, being just “another case of the Commission’s famed ‘constructive ambiguity’ approach. According to [ACA director Bernd Wächter] the proposal would do away with any sector-specific sub-programmes and would therefore not be able to allocate money to, for instance, higher education.”

The European Commission is nevertheless confident of the more integrated approach set out in its Erasmus for All proposal. Speaking to University World News, Jordi Curell, the head of the Commission’s education and training directorate, comments:

“We believe education and training support has more impact if it is treated in a holistic manner. That means not just grouping together all support to the different education and training sectors but also linking this to our work on informal and non-formal learning.”

The Council of the EU will now consider the budgetary provisions and other administration aspects of the Erasmus for All proposal over the balance of 2012.

Sources: University World News, New York Times, Guardian, ScienceGuide

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