Erasmus aims at reinforcing the European dimension in higher education by encouraging the transnational co-operation between universities and the European mobility of students and teachers. The important points of the action are thus: mobility, transparency and academic recognition of studies.
Erasmus, a true success
The students, who carry out part of their studies (from 3 to 9 months, starting from the 2nd year of studies) at a foreign university, profit from a mobility allowance. This one is different according to the country of origin and host country. The studies carried out abroad are recognized by the university of origin thanks to the ECTS system (the European system of transfer of appropriations). The participants receive an Erasmus Charter, a sort of a code describing their rights and obligations.
For José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, Erasmus became “much more than a simple educational programme”. The programme went much further than one could have imagined for a European action coordinated in the field of education.
Erasmus in some figures
Since its creation in 1987, 1,5 million Erasmus students could profit from this action and went to study in an establishment abroad. I count as one of these Erasmus students as well.
For the first year of the starting of Erasmus there were only 3.244 students who profited from the stay in another country of Europe. This figure exploded ever since. On the whole in 2005, 145.000 European students profited from this programme, even if that accounts for only 1% of the European student’s population. The total number of students, who carried out their Erasmus between 1987 and 2006, amounts to one million and a half. Currently, nine out of ten European educational establishments cooperate within the framework of this action.
What is the gender distribution like? Obviously, the girls are the ones who became most mobile… During the academic year 2000/2001, girls amounted to 59% of secondary school students and 41% of university students. Today, the statistics speak about 60% of students.
According to data for the academic year 2004/2005, the Germans (22 427 students) and the French (21 562 students) who are most numerous to go beyond their borders. The general assessment is as follows: 217.000 French had benefited from Erasmus, followed by Germans (216 000), Spaniards (191 000), Italians (157 000) and the British (143 000).
The students prefer the sun. According to data for the year 2004/2005, it is Spain which attracted most Erasmus students by accommodating 25.500 people; closely followed by France with 20.500. In “SIGNAL 20” of the most wanted universities for Erasmus in 2004/2005 there are… 13 Spanish ones! In the continuation of the classification, we find three Italian universities, two German, an Austrian and a Swedish .
Problems of Erasmus and its future
The problems which concern students can be divided in two fields:
The first relates strictly to the university course. According to testimonies of students, it happens that they encounter difficulties for the recognition of their stay abroad and exams passed there by their home university in the country of origin. It is in particular the case for medicine and law faculties, but not only. There are also many students, who seriously make their studies and which will want to never leave, because they are afraid of the administrative problems which they are likely to encounter on their return. What is the problem? Often, there is a problem of equivalence of diplomas because there are not the same courses at home and abroad and some professors require passing the examinations at the time of return, in order to validate the academic year. Therefore Erasmus is perceived sometimes as being a programme of… holidays. “In any event, work will await return to the country of origin.” But that does not correspond to the objective of the action.
The second problem relates to the policies of the European Union and other countries which take part in the Erasmus program. It concerns the budget. There is a lack of money allocated to it. To leave on a Erasmus is very difficult for the least favoured. It is necessary to save a lot of money before leaving, either by asking the parents to help out or to work during the stay. To be helped by his/her parents is not often possible, especially for these young people who do not live yet in the Euro-zone and for which the life abroad is often more expensive than in the country of origin. Do you imagine living in Paris for one month with 350 euros in the pocket? That is actually what happened to me and I had one of the biggest amounts allocated for Erasmus in comparison to other Erasmus students than I had the chance to meet in 2004/2005.
Over the period 2000-2006, the Socrates programme, of which Erasmus is only one part, had the total budget of 950 million euros. Is it sufficient compared to the number of students who want to take advantage of the programme? The Commission itself acknowledged that the scholarships are too low to make it possible for the students, who come from financially underprivileged mediums to benefit from the Socrates/Erasmus programme. The students who would like to profit from Erasmus know it well.
What is the objective of the European Commission? It is to reach three million students until the year 2012. Is this mission, possible? To carry it out, one needs more money. It is up to the Member States to increase their financial participation to develop this action, intended for young people who dream of living and studying abroad for a while. With respect to the construction of Europe, each student - also that which comes from a small city and which leaves for the first time beyond its borders - should be able to go to a European university town of his choice; and to survive it in dignity, not with 100 or 300 euros per month in an extremely expensive city. The increase in the budgets would make it possible that students benefit fully with their stay abroad and not to feel excluded because of lack of money.
For this type of decision, Europe cannot count only on the goodwill of the States. The legitimacy for this kind of decision will come from a truly political Europe. The European citizens approve of this programme by a vast majority. So that it develops, it is not enough to be content with the current European institutions, but rather be critical and act towards changes that will help us get there.
This article was translated by Peter Matjašič, Editor-in-Chief of thenewfederalist.eu. The original document is the article previously published on the French version of our webzine on January 6th.