Arguably the most popular EU initiative amongst students, and with good reason too. But what does the future hold for the much loved and successful ERASMUS programme? Will it be branded an unnecessary luxury or will policy makers recognise its benefits and allow it to thrive?
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the first European student exchange programme, AKA ERASMUS, which allows thousands students from all over Europe to spend between 3 and 12 months in another European country. Students can usually get transferable credit for exams and courses.
ERASMUS is an acronym meaning “EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students”; but also an appropriate tribute to the Dutch Renaissance philosopher, Erasmus of Rotterdam, an opponent of religious and intellectual dogmatism. A man who lived and studied in many European countries, in order to increase his knowledge and broaden his horizons.
The EU programme is inspired by the same values: mobility, education, cultural and interior enrichment; tolerance; discovery and respect for diversity. Values that, according to many students and young people, have made ERASMUS one of the EU’s major successes. 33 countries are encompassed within the programme, – the 27 European Union Member States plus Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. The EU have allocated 3 billion Euros during the 2007-2013 financial period: a figure 33 times greater than that one allocated during the 1987-1990 period.
Twenty-five years have passed and ERASMUS has changed too, as well as the social, economic and political context where it takes place. Twenty-five years ago the first student exchange programme was inaugurated by a European Economic Community eager to reduce the distance between itself and European citizens as well as among European peoples themselves. Above all, ERASMUS was inaugurated after the relaunch of the Common Market: an event involving new economic opportunities; but also a chance to promote European common policies aimed at improving students’ skills, in order to better prepare young people to enter the labour market. So, students mobility was identified as a response to the economic and political challenges that a changing Europe was facing. At the same time, European decision-makers did not hide their hope that, thanks to the ERASMUS programme, a common idea of Europe, Today, the European Economic Community no longer exists. In place of it, a European Union in the throws of a crisis which is not only economic but also a political crisis of trust, in a climate of growing anti Brussels sentiment. Even ERASMUS is struggling: a lack of funding threatening cuts set to impact participants by autumn 2013. The European Commission is trying to solve the problem by proposing a revised budget plan and asking already-indebted Member States new funds. Best wishes.
Maybe, in today’s Europe, the function of ERASMUS is no longer important enough to deserve so many funds? To judge, it had better understand what these financial resources have been useful for in past years. European Union’s fans (but, perhaps, even its detractors) could argue the main objective of ERASMUS has been to develop a sort of “common European identity”. Yet maybe it had better think more pragmatically. About concrete benefits ERASMUS may have made. Just ask past participants of their ERASMUS experience; those that went to France, Germany, Greece. Or Poland, Ireland, Croatia. Southern Europe or Scandinavia. Liverpool, Munich. Budapest, Istanbul. Answers are similar. But they could be summarized in three words: sharing, growth and discovery.
Sharing of study experiences and teaching methods; of knowledge and views. But actually ERASMUS is also a “human-type” sharing: new friendships, laughter, nights spent all together, beers drunk in good company (and following hangovers). Attending new courses, knowing a different university and meeting new people.
haring bears growth. And it is not only academic growth, but personal development. Erasmus from Rotterdam, noble father of today’s European students, had a similar conception: to broaden one’s own horizon. To share what one has of his own knowledge, experiences, views – with the others. To give and to receive. A mutual enrichment.
Finally, discovery: of new realities, new ways of thinking and living, different people and nations. That really allows to broaden horizons. To break down prejudices. And, maybe, to discover differences and similarities.
The possibility to discover and enjoy so much diversity, so much cultural, linguistic and intellectual richness lets us realise that Europe is wonderfully full.
Perhaps, by studying in another European country, we will discover our neighbors have more common elements than we previously thought. We will be able to break down some barriers. Those of silence and closeness. Those of prejudice and indifference. At the end of our ERASMUS experience, we will have learnt something more of our neighbors. And, without realizing it, we will also have given them something about us.