In 2014, the Erasmus Programme, which is often regarded as the greatest success-story of the European Union, changed its name to Erasmus +. But the title is not the only thing that has been changed in this programme.
The Erasmus Programme is a European Union student exchange programme that was created in 1987 by the European Commission. The idea of building a whole programme designed for all European students emerged at the time when the European Community was getting particularly prosperous. Already in 1971, the Ministers of Education of the nine member states of the European Economic Community gathered to think about a cooperation between European universities. After years of negotiations, the proposal and the programme itself were finally adopted in June 1987. Since then, the popularity of the Erasmus Programme kept growing in a steady way and the European students became more and more enthusiastic about the idea of spending one semester or one year abroad. Erasmus then experienced a shift three years ago: in January 2014, the original Erasmus Programme became Erasmus +, a new programme that now includes several other projects dedicated sport, education, training and youth, such as Erasmus, Leonardo, Grundtvig, Erasmus Mundus and Comenius. Therefore, there is only one available label for all the existing European programmes.
But what do we really know about Erasmus Plus ? And what are the main differences and characteristics of Erasmus + compared with the original Erasmus Programme ?
First and foremost, the main goal of the programme remains the same : Erasmus + carries on encouraging student exchange in almost all European universities. A new significant budget of 14.7 billion euros has been established for the period 2014-2020 in order to perpetuate the actions of Erasmus for at least the next six years. But what we do not necessarily know is that the requested profile of the applicants has changed. With the shift from Erasmus to Erasmus +, the application to the programme is now open to many other applicants, such as higher education teachers, apprentices, trainees, professionals in companies, athletes, coaches, volunteers, pupils, trainers and youth workers, and not only to students, as it used to be until 2014. As Erasmus Plus now includes more fields of activity, more people with various profiles have the opportunity to participate in the project.
As a consequence, the number of fields of activity that are part of the programme has dramatically increased. Today, the actions of Erasmus + also concern vocational education and training, school education, adult education, youth and sport, hence the significant number of new participants to the programme. As far as students are concerned, they are now allowed to take part in Erasmus + even one year after the end of their studies ; however, they need to fulfil their application during the second year of their Master’s degree.
Thanks to the establishment of Erasmus Plus, the geographical area of the initial Erasmus Programme has been extended to non- EU and non-European countries, thus giving an even bigger international dimension to the project. The list of eligible countries has now been divided into programme and partner countries. The 28 Member States of the EU plus former Yugoslav, Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey have the opportunity to fully take part in all the actions of Erasmus +. Indeed, in January 2014, Turkey and Republic of Macedonia were added to the list and became programme countries. The other countries, including Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership and South-Mediterranean countries and the Russian federation, registered in the programme are known as “partner countries” which are able to set up certain actions of the Erasmus + programme.
In addition, applicants might from now on apply to African countries, but this list remains subject to the provisions of the revised Cotonou Partnership Agreement and is supposed to be only indicative. Although there are differences in the actions undertaken by the eligible countries depending on their location (for instance, in Europe or out of Europe), it is important to notice that Erasmus + now proposes a wide range of destinations and becomes more and more international in order to live up to young people’s expectations.
Furthermore, Erasmus Plus has set up three new key actions in order to better organize its different actions and to achieve all its new objectives. The three key actions actually represent the general structure of the project. The Key Action 1 is called “Learning mobility of individuals” and basically supports mobility projects in the fields of youth, education and training. Until 2014, mobility projects were only supported in the field of higher education, therefore it represents a positive improvement and development for the programme. Among other things, the goal of this key action is to encourage at least 20% of European young people to take part in the exchange programme by 2020. The two other Key Actions deal with Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices and Support for policy reform, which set up the rules for the participating organisations and strategic partnerships of Erasmus + and organize structured dialogue meetings between young people and decision-makers in the field of youth.
Consequently, the new Erasmus + Programme is much more structured and it wholly comes within the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy, a strategy that notably helps strengthen the international attractiveness of Europe’s higher education.
With all these improvements, it has to be noted that quite a lot of things changed two years ago. Erasmus + is definitely open to more people and more countries than its predecessor and it developed actions in fields that used to be out of the programme. As the world is getting more and more globalized, it has become necessary today to give the opportunity to all young people to experience an exchange programme in Europe or on another continent. Nevertheless, one question remains unanswered : what will happen after 2020, when the six-year budget and the Europe 2020 Strategy come to an end ? Another ten-year strategy by the European Commission might be useful to help give a boost to Erasmus.