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Happy birthday Erasmus!

Hundreds of EUPRIO members are familiar with Erasmus, either from going abroad as exchange students themselves and doing short work placement at other European universities, or by promoting the European Union’s mobility programme as part of their institution’s internationalisation strategy.


ERASMUS celebrates its 30th anniversary this year after being relaunched in 2014, with a budget of €14.7billion for the seven years up to 2020, when seven previous European Union programmes in education, training, youth and sport were integrated into Erasmus+, writes NIC MITCHELL.Erasmus face single

But it all started modestly when the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students – ERASMUS – was adopted on 17 June 1987. Just 11 countries – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom – took part in first Erasmus exchanges and 3,244 students travelled abroad to study in 1987-88.

5 million going abroad

Today 33 countries are involved in the full programme – all 28 EU member states and the non-EU countries of the Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Turkey. Other countries, mainly in Eastern Europe and North Africa, also participate in parts of the programme.

The European Commission says over the past 30 years the programme has given five million people the chance to study or train abroad.

And in the first year of Erasmus+ – 2014 – there were a record number of 650,000 individual mobility grants made for people to study, train, work or volunteer abroad.

Swiss suspension

Switzerland was an early recruit to Erasmus, joining in 1992, but it was suspended from association membership shortly before the new Erasmus+ programme was launched in 2014. The suspension followed a referendum on 9 February 2014 in which a narrow majority voted in favour of the anti-mass immigration initiative after Croatia joined the EU.

Swiss and EU starsHowever, hopes are high that the Switzerland will be allowed back in after a fresh interpretation of the referendum outcome by the Swiss government.

Talks with the European Commission to resolve outstanding matters are due to start soon. A positive sign is that the Swiss are already back in the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme from which they were also suspended after the referendum. See more in my blog about Erasmus+, the Swiss and Brexit on my own website.

Brexit challenge

Among issues facing Erasmus+ over the next year or two is how to treat the UK when it finally starts the process of leaving the European Union following its Brexit referendum.

From statements by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, it appears that that Britain will exit the single market and end the free movement of people from the EU when it leaves the Union perhaps as early as 2019.

British universities campaigned hard to remain in the EU and are now turning their attention to finding ways to still participate in EU programmes, such as Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020, after Brexit.

A statement on the Universities UK website says the British rectors’ conference will urge the government ‘to seek assurances from the EU that the UK can continue to access this valuable exchange programme.’

Some hopeful signs

The European University Association (EUA) sees some hopeful signs and applauded Mrs May’s much-anticipated speech on 17 January 2017 in which she welcomed ‘agreement to continue collaborating with European partners on major initiatives in science, research and technology’, including Britain paying into European programmes.

The EUA hopes this focus will carry a promise for continued UK association to Erasmus+.

Brexit expert Thomas Jørgensen sees hopeful signs

Brexit expert Thomas Jørgensen sees hopeful signs

EUA Brexit expert and senior policy coordinator Thomas Jørgensen says different rules for association apply to different countries and ending free movement of people between the UK and EU countries need not jeopardise British participation in Erasmus+ and Horizon.

Erasmus+ mid-term review

In the meantime, and coinciding with the 30th birthday celebrations for Erasmus, is the mid-term review of Erasmus+ 2014-20120 by the European Commission and EACEA – the European, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency – which is in charge of managing the Erasmus+ programme.

A public consultation is scheduled to take place in March and April and this will look at both improving implementation of the current programme up to 2020 and laying the ground for its successor.

The EUA surveyed its members last year and over 200 universities responded to say that the European Commission and EACEA should cut red tape and increase funding, particularly for exchanges and cooperation with countries outside the EU.EUA consults on Erasmus+ mid-term

The findings were outlined in a report, EUA Member Consultation: A contribution to the Erasmus+ mid-term review which I have summarised in an article for University World News, titled Cut red tape and raise funding in Erasmus+, says EUA (13 January 2017).

Birthday celebrations

 Despite the challenges facing Erasmus+, the European Union is determined to celebrate a milestone for its showpiece mobility initiative and there is more information on the ‘From Erasmus to Erasmus+’ homepage and a chance to subscribe to the Erasmus+ newsletter to stay tuned in to news and events.

 Also see:

Can UK universities remain European after Brexit?, January 29, 2017.