Erasmus, the student exchange programme, is one of the EU’s greatest success stories. Now, we want to open it to everyone.
Mention European politics to a random sample of today’s young people and you will be lucky to get much more than shrugs or blank stares. But mention Erasmus, the EU’s flagship student mobility scheme, to those same young people and you’ll see their faces light up. And for good reason. A few years ago, headlines trumpeted that the one millionth ‘Erasmus baby’ had been born. But this well-known benefit of the world’s biggest crossborder study scheme, expected or otherwise, is only a side-effect. First and foremost, Erasmus is one of the best ways for today’s young people to gain invaluable cultural experiences, educational opportunities, language skills, career options and lifelong friendships. No wonder Erasmus is widely recognised as one of the EU’s biggest success stories. And make no mistake about it: a scheme on this scale simply couldn’t have come into existence without the solid framework of pan-continental cooperation that we have built in the European Union. Erasmus, like the EU itself, is a hard-won achievement that we should all be proud of.
Erasmus gives a significant boost to young people’s educational, career and cultural horizons — a boost that they desperately need in today’s Europe.
Building a better Europe
But just as Erasmus needs Europe, so Europe needs Erasmus. The benefits of taking part don’t just belong to the individual participants. Setting aside the scheme’s more amorous benefits and the resulting ‘Erasmus babies’, Erasmus gives a significant boost to young people’s educational, career and cultural horizons — a boost that they desperately need in today’s Europe. But at the same time, Europe gains citizens who are broader minded, better informed and more internationally oriented. To put it bluntly, it’s that much harder for someone to vote for a right-wing politician who wants to close borders or cut off cooperation if he or she owes some of the best years of their life to exactly those things. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons Umberto Eco thought that Erasmus should be compulsory: through Erasmus, we don’t just build better young people, we build a better Europe.
At the Party of European Socialists, we know a good thing when we see it. And we want more. The current incarnation, Erasmus+, is fantastic but, despite high demand and constant expansion, participation is still too limited. This has to change. We believe that everyone should have the chance to study abroad, whether as part of a university course, vocational training or even at high school.That’s why the message ‘Erasmus for all’ is a key part of our Youth Plan, one of our major political campaigns. And we’ve already had some notable success. Thanks to pressure from our political family, the EU student mobility target is now for at least 20 percent of Europe’s higher education graduates to have studied abroad. The deadline is 2020—but so far we are nowhere near.
Making Erasmus more accessible
So, we need to make the Erasmus scheme more accessible. Application procedures must be simplified and made more user-friendly. Administrative barriers to entry must be removed, especially when it comes to recognition, ensuring that employers and educational institutions across Europe recognise the value of a period spent studying or working in another country.
Currently, only one in ten Erasmus students comes from a disadvantaged group — even though participants from these groups have even more to gain from the experience than those in more privileged positions.
Many of Europe’s young people also face social barriers to taking part. Despite the existence of some limited funds for less well-off families, taking part in an Erasmus exchange still represents a significant financial commitment, which can exclude students from poorer backgrounds, as well as those who face disadvantages such as disability, social status, health-related conditions or geographic remoteness. Currently, only one in ten Erasmus students comes from a disadvantaged group — even though participants from these groups have even more to gain from the experience than those in more privileged positions. This must change. We call for more targeted financial support to really open Erasmus to all.
And we also want to extend access to Erasmus in two more key ways. Firstly, we want to strengthen the high school dimension: school students, just like those at university, can benefit enormously from the cultural, educational and social opportunities that studying abroad can offer. Secondly, just as importantly, we want to break the mould of presenting Erasmus as a scheme just for those on conventional university courses. Right now, fewer than 20 percent of Erasmus students are taking part in vocational training or apprenticeships. We want to drastically increase this number, so that Erasmus participation can cut across educational boundaries as well as social and economic class.
Erasmus is not just a vital way to improve the lives and broaden the horizons of Europe’s young people. It’s also a hugely successful scheme for creating (yes, in more ways than one!) the next generation of positive, outward-looking young Europeans — something that we believe Europe needs now more than ever.