The Erasmus Programme – An EU Success Story

by Luis Ritto* 

ERASMUS is the European Union’s flagship mobility programme in the field of education and training. Established in 1987 (it has therefore 26 years of existence) and named after the Dutch-born pan-European philosopher, theologian and humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1465-1536), who lived and worked in several European countries in quest of the knowledge, experience and insights which only such contacts with other countries can bring, this scheme is today part of the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme. It has helped to improve also transparency and academic recognition of qualifications and studies throughout the European Union.

The ERASMUS programme aims at increasing University student and staff mobility. It enriches therefore students’ lives not only in the academic field, but also in the acquisition of intercultural skills and in the learning of foreign languages. And staff exchanges are also of significant benefit, both for the individuals participating (professors) and for the institutions involved. Since 1987, ERASMUS has grown to become the largest exchange programme in the world.

The success of the ERASMUS programme can be seen by the fact that over 3 million students are said to have taken part in it since its inception. Besides, around 25,000 professors and lecturers teach abroad each year with the support of the programme.

More than 4,000 Higher Education Institutions in 33 countries participate in the ERASMUS programme, thus providing opportunities for Europeans to study and teach abroad in a wide range of disciplines. Every year more than 230,000 students pack their bags and study abroad with the support of the ERASMUS system.

According to the Institute of International Education, about 10 percent of European students now study abroad. In comparison, only 1 percent of US students enrol in Higher Education study abroad each year. Umberto Eco, the Italian writer and academic said in January in an interview with the Italian newspaper “La Stampa” that the ERASMUS exchange programme is truly “creating a new generation of young Europeans”.

Spain, France and Germany are both the largest senders and receivers of exchange students. The UK ranks fourth, but it sends only half as many Erasmus students as it receives. The current annual budget for the programme is estimated to be more than € 489 million (or about USD 590 million). Experts say that ERASMUS participants develop a cross-cultural fluency that is essential to European life and attractive to employers.

To participate in the ERASMUS programme students must be studying for a degree or diploma at a Higher Education institution and must study for a period of three months to an academic year in another European country. The programme guarantees that the period spent abroad by students is recognised by their Universities when they come back. Another advantage of the programme is that students do not need to pay extra tuition fees to the University they visit and study.

The European Commission has expanded in the recent past the ERASMUS scheme and it now includes also the so-called “Erasmus Mundus Programme” which is orientated towards globalising European education by opening it to non-Europeans. It is hoped that it will have the same success as the European ERASMUS programme. Universities worldwide are joining the scheme, which is a sign that it is gaining importance in the global education arena. And a sign also that European education has quality and attracts students from all over the world.

Luis Ritto

*About the author:

Ambassador Luis Ritto is a Vatican and Diplomatic Protocol expert.


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