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19th Jan 2020

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At 30, 'Erasmus' eyes language skills and degree recognition

  • Since its creation in 1987, the Erasmus programme has helped some nine million student study and live abroad in the EU (Photo: Conor Lawless/Flickr)

The European Commission closed celebrations on Thursday (30 November) for the 30th anniversary of the Erasmus student exchange programme by promising a "brighter future" for what it called the EU's "most successful and most visible" programme.

"My aspiration is to give more people from a much wider range of backgrounds the possibility to make their Erasmus experience. We have to be ambitious for the programme, its outreach and its budget," said EU education commissioner Tibor Navracsics said.

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He said Erasmus - which has been called Erasmus+ since 2014 - "has acted as a driver for unity in Europe, contributing to strengthening the resilience of individuals and our society."

In a report also published on Thursday, the Commission noted that Erasmus is on track to meet its target of supporting 3.7 million young people in the EU between 2014 and 2020.

Up to two million students are expected to benefit from grants to study and train abroad under the current programme, while around nine million people in total have benefited from Erasmus since it was launched in 1987.

Navracsics called for a doubling of participants by 2025, and said he has asked the Erasmus+ generation themselves "to come up with ideas and proposals for the future."

That request comes after the Commission earlier this month presented a set of ideas to "strengthen European identity through education and culture."

The EU executive proposed the creation of a European education area, with a better mutual recognition and validation of diplomas, and a focus on acquiring language and digital skills.

"Study and training programmes that are automatically recognised in more than one country are still the exception," the Commission warned. "This makes life more difficult for graduates and it impedes universities."

It proposed to go beyond the so-called Bologna process - which facilitates mutual recognition of higher education diplomas across 48 countries - and launch within two years a 'Sorbonne process'.

Macron's plan

The ideas and the name were floated by French president Emmanuel Macron, on 26 September, in a speech at the Sorbonne university in Paris, where he called for "a programme accommodating exchanges, changes and transitions throughout the European secondary-school system."

The new Sorbonne process would allow a mutual recognition with a secure electronic system for the storage and retrieval of academic diplomas, so that their authenticity could be checked.

"To build a good Sorbonne process, lessons from the Bologna process need to be learnt", noted David Lopez, president of the European Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP), the umbrella association for European education organisations.

The Bologna process in non-binding and, ultimately, at the discretion of the university where a candidate applies. The main obstacle to the process's well-functioning is its implementation, and that "remains a problem in many countries" Lopez told EUobserver.

"The traditional academic freedom does not allow for the direct top-down command of the central administration," he said, adding that full recognition of diplomas "depends on professors' willingness."

Maria Teresa Gimenez, an MEP from the liberal Alde group who is also a shadow rapporteur for the parliament's report on the modernisation of education in the EU, said however that "no matter how complicated and often fragmented the Bologna process' implementation has been among member states, we have the unique responsibility to foster our common sense of belonging to the European project through our education systems."

The Commission also echoed Macron's idea that "by 2024, all European students should speak at least two languages and that half of Europeans under 25 - students and apprentices alike - should have spent at least six months in another country."

It said it will propose next year a recommendation to member states on improving language learning to meet this objective.

Being able to speak different languages "helps to better understand the culture of our neighbours" and "weakens exclusionary divisions, and [helps in] shaping a common European identity," Gimenez noted.

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