EU to extend mobility programmes to the rest of the world

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 May 19.

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.

“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.”

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 Tine Delva, also from the European Commission’s Education Directorate-General.

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 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.

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.

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.

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