This year marks the 30th anniversary since the Erasmus programme was founded. Throughout the year, the European Commission, National Agencies and higher education institutions across Europe will be celebrating the history and the benefits of Erasmus. To coincide with the anniversary launch, Stephanie Kleynhans, Policy Officer for Europe, describes why the Erasmus programme matters for staff, students and institutions.
The Erasmus programme has taken hundreds of thousands of UK students and staff abroad since its inception in 1987.
The benefits of completing a period of work or study abroad whilst at university for students are well documented. They include increased employability, higher academic attainment, increased confidence and intercultural skills.
Staff can also expect to improve their pedagogical abilities as well as enhancing their professional networks. This brings benefits for both them and their institution.
However, there are less tangible strengths to the Erasmus programme. The latter shouldn’t be ignored as we debate the UK’s involvement in Erasmus post-Brexit.
Erasmus was recently described to me as “egalitarian”. Grants are available to all staff and students regardless of background or finances. Mobility can often be difficult for disadvantaged or under-represented students to access because of high costs.
All study abroad students have the majority of their tuition fee waived for their year abroad. They are also eligible for the core UK student loan and maintenance grant award that they would normally receive. However, unlike on other schemes, every Erasmus student studying or working abroad is also eligible for monthly grants. And if you are from a disadvantaged background, or are disabled, you can apply for additional funds to ease the financial burden.
Other grants and scholarships are available for mobility taken outside of Erasmus, but can require onerous research, incredibly varied application processes and often stipulations based on nationality, background or subject studied.
An often neglected benefit of the Erasmus programme is the impact it has on institutional partnership development. Erasmus allows institutions to easily establish and maintain partnerships through a universal system. Institutions come quality assured and protected by the Erasmus charter and learning agreements.
For individual institutions to replicate this for each of its individual partners in Europe would be prohibitively burdensome.
And it’s not just mobility. University partnerships and consortia can bid for funding from Erasmus for Key Action Two projects. These often take the form of higher education reform and capacity-building projects in developing countries as well as joint degree programmes.
Not only do these types of partnership act as a gateway to greater institutional links, staff mobility via Erasmus can also sow the seeds for personal relationships between individual staff and foster research partnerships.
After 30 years, Erasmus has a well-established and universally recognised brand. It’s recognised by institutions, employers and governments all over the world.
The network of Erasmus alumni connects different generations. Those who spent time studying or working in the UK often retain their personal and professional networks in the UK.
When interviewed by the former government Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), 90% of international students surveyed agreed that their perception of the UK had changed in a positive way during their study here.
In uncertain times as headlines portray us as unwelcoming, it is great to have large cohorts of Erasmus alumni who can testify to the UK’s open and tolerant university campuses. Campuses where they have made friends for life.
Erasmus matters because of the opportunities it provides for staff and students to develop personally, academically and professionally.
It matters because it helps create university campuses that are international and multi-cultural.
It matters because it helps institutions establish and maintain important partnerships.
And it matters because the international networks and brand it creates are unparalleled.
Happy 30th birthday Erasmus.