• International

Published on June 7, 2022 Updated on June 7, 2022

EU to extend mobility programmes to the rest of the world

Article originally written by Yojana Sharma, on Universityworldnews.com on May 26th 2022.

The European Union is expanding its student and academic mobility programmes under its flagship Erasmus+ programme to cover countries worldwide under its new seven-year cycle 2021-27.

Compared with the previous seven-year programme in terms of which mobility programmes with partners in the rest of the world were not possible, the significantly expanded Erasmus budget will, from this year, allow up to a fifth of funding under the scheme to be used for exchanges and mobility beyond the European continent.

“We are expecting quite some boost in international exchanges, starting perhaps with exchanges of staff where the partnerships are new, to test the ground, followed by student exchanges,” said Nadia Manzoni of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.

This would also include traineeships with industry or companies outside the EU.

“Think of the possibilities of traineeships into the US, Canada and South Africa. This is all possible now,” as part of individual exchanges and mobility, she said during a session on the European Strategy for Universities and its implementation through Erasmus during the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 May.

Erasmus+ has an overall budget of €26 billion (US$28 billion) for the seven years 2021-27 compared with €14.7 billion for 2014-20. Around 70% of the programme is student and staff mobility, but 30% is accounted for by cooperation projects, such as the European University alliances, and much more.

Increased opportunities

Tine Delva, also from the European Commission’s Education Directorate-General, said: “From third [non-EU] countries for mobilities into Europe, a higher budget will be available than in the past programming period, so there will be increased opportunities for both universities and students.”

“There are no geographical limitations apart from geographical diversity as a principle that should be applied,” said Manzoni. This is to ensure that a European university has partnerships in several other countries in the world. “But that is the sole criterion, as well as this 20% ceiling of the budget.”

New European universities, under the EU’s European Universities Initiative which sets up cross-border alliances of universities that jointly deliver programmes, have been able to use some of the EU’s international credit mobility programmes for exchanges and mobility with African countries.

“It is already happening on the grounds that cooperation is ongoing. Also, for example, with African partners, there is already a lot of cooperation.”

However, Manzoni noted that universities had to compete for a common pool of funding to fund mobility programmes with Africa and other regions. “We saw in the past programming period that the demand by European universities [to extend beyond Europe] far outstripped the supply of funding,” Manzoni said, noting that competition for such funding has been fierce.

Responding to the Ukraine crisis

Thanks to the much-expanded Erasmus+ budget, Manzoni said the EU was able to act quickly after the Russian aggression against Ukraine to use Erasmus+ beyond the EU to facilitate Ukrainian student and academic mobility within the EU.

“There was quite swift action in the Erasmus+ programme. We introduced some unprecedented measures and opened up [for Ukraine] the Erasmus programme – for students it was a period of up to 12 months for a study cycle – using all the standard rules of the Erasmus+ programme that were applied to intra-European mobility.

“This has been hugely used and popular, especially in the border regions of the European Union,” she said, adding: “It offers a temporary opportunity to continue studying as we, in our contacts with the Ukrainian Ministry of Education, have been made very well aware that we should not foster brain drain [from Ukraine].”

“In the neighbouring countries to Ukraine but also beyond, there is a big wave of solidarity in the higher education sector, trying to help Ukrainian institutions and also those academic staff and students that are fleeing Ukraine,” said Delva.

She pointed to European university initiatives such as the European Campus of City-Universities (EC2U) Alliance that has already set up cooperation agreements with universities in Ukraine under the new scheme.

The EC2U is a multicultural, multilingual alliance consisting of seven countries: Portugal, Romania, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Finland.

Delva noted that Erasmus+ cooperation programmes with Russian institutions were now being stopped although people-to-people cooperation continues, “to make sure that we do not punish the ordinary Russian citizen who wants to come through mobility [programmes] to Europe”.

European Strategy for Universities

Delva said the EU’s European Strategy for Universities will also be increasing transnational cooperation across countries beyond the EU.

“The European Universities Initiative was set up for European universities, so the main partners come from the Erasmus+ programme countries. This will remain the case but there are many other ways to cooperate with the European university,” Delva said.

She pointed to agreements underway as part of the internationalisation strategy of several European universities, such as the Eutopia European University – a 10-member alliance that includes universities in Romania, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, France, Sweden, Croatia, Spain and the UK.

Nonetheless, Delva acknowledged that universities face obstacles to more effective transnational cooperation. In a recent EU survey 92% of universities noted many barriers to transnational cooperation, she said.

Integrating teaching across borders and creating joint degrees between universities has been hampered by legal and regulatory red tape within different EU countries, with legislation prohibiting some universities from sharing responsibilities for assessment of standards with other international institutions.

To address this, the European Commission put forward a proposal which recommends that member states provide the legal statute for alliances of higher education institutions.

“This is why we have come up with the European higher education package to better position the European higher education sector in the global scene,” Delva said.

She was referring to the European Strategy for Universities unveiled by the European Commission in January, which is described as a policy vision for the future of higher education and for universities and member states to work together.

The strategy recommendations were adopted last month by EU education ministers, including a recommendation to make transnational cooperation easier for university groups.

Reinforcing and creating alliances

This comes alongside the expansion of the European Universities Initiative. The European Commission launched its latest €272 million (US$290 million) Erasmus+ call at the end of November to reinforce existing university alliances and create new ones, expanding from 41 alliances involving 280 universities in the EU to 60 alliances, with more than 500 universities by mid-2024.

Already the number of partners in such alliances is increasing from around four-to-five partners to nine or 10. “With so many universities we see that sometimes administrative bottlenecks linked to the setting up of these programmes are multiplied because of the different national frameworks that are in place,” Delva said.

“This is where we will work together with the member states and the stakeholders [universities] and the aim would be creating common criteria leading to a European label for joint programmes to be piloted this year under Erasmus+,” she said.

CHARM European University has been operating for two years and Meritxell Chaves, the University of Barcelona’s coordinator for CHARM, said the alliance, which involves universities in Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary and France, is expanding to add three more – one in Finland and two in Germany.

She noted that such alliances have a broad impact on participating universities. “This is impacting people at home, not just the people directly involved or travelling,” she said, noting a huge interest in the programmes.

But she also said that at the institutional level “all this innovation clashes with rules and regulations and what we are used to doing … This generates internal tension. But it is part of the game if we need to change”.

‘We are the icebreakers’

“We are the icebreakers,” she said, pointing out that countries such as Spain and Hungary changed their legislation for all their universities to allow such collaborations.

Around the world, countries likely to take part in the Erasmus+ initiatives to extend mobility outside Europe include Brazil, Mexico, North African countries and, in Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Darren McDermott, team leader for European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (EU SHARE), told University World News the allocation of Erasmus+ budget funding to activities under the EU’s external action initiatives under the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe is entirely consistent with the EU’s commitment towards promoting people-to-people connectivity worldwide.

“It enables the strengthening of societies through educational exchanges, student mobility and capacity building. This, in turn, reinforces links between Europe and the rest of the world.

“Southeast Asia and particularly the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are very well placed to participate in these new initiatives,” he said.

Higher education institutions and regional entities in ASEAN member states have been engaged in a process of integration and capacity building on internationalisation for well over a decade and, more recently, have established regional structures, frameworks and communities of practice in collaboration with EU partners and the EU’s flagship higher education programme with ASEAN, the EU SHARE programme, he said.

“International Credit Mobility and other higher education initiatives such as Erasmus+ in Asia implemented the Capacity Building in Higher Education (CBHE) programme. The first generations of this proved very popular across Asia amongst a variety of institutions which collaborated with European partners,” said McDermott.

Manzoni said Erasmus+ is also starting a series of actions to boost traineeships in private companies and to increase their quality in this diverse and unregulated sector.

The European Commission will soon start work with the Erasmus national agencies in 33 countries, “to define whether we want to create a ‘charter’ for employers” that hosts trainees to set out a set of minimal quality standards “that we can all agree on and that need to be respected”, she said.