Erasmus is the EU’s flagship education and training programme enabling 200 000 students to study and work abroad each year. In addition, it funds co-operation between higher education institutions across Europe. The programme not only supports students, but also professors and business staff who want to teach abroad, as well as helping university staff to receive training. Many studies show that a period spent abroad not only enriches students’ lives in the academic and professional fields, but can also improve language learning, intercultural skills, self-reliance and self-awareness. Their experiences give students a better sense of what it means to be a European citizen. In addition, many employers highly value such a period abroad, which increases the students’ employability and job prospects. Staff exchanges have similar beneficial effects, both for the people participating and for the home and host institutions.
Few, if any, programmes launched by the European Union have had a similar Europe-wide reach as the ERASMUS Programme. The vast majority of European universities take part in ERASMUS. More than 2.2 million students have participated since it started in 1987, as well as 250 000 higher education teachers and other staff since 1997 (this type of exchange was also expanded further in 2007.
The annual budget is in excess of 450 million euro; more than 4 000 higher education institutions in 33 countries participate, and more are waiting to join.
Impact on higher education
An overriding aim of the programme is to help create a ‘European Higher Education Area’ and foster innovation throughout Europe. In addition to exchange actions (‘transnational mobility’), ERASMUS helps higher education institutions to work together through intensive programmes, networks and multilateral projects. Thanks to all these actions, ERASMUS has become a driver in the modernisation of higher education institutions and systems in Europe and, in particular, has inspired the establishment of the Bologna Process. ERASMUS became part of the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme in 2007 and covered new areas such as student placements in enterprises (transferred from the Leonardo da Vinci Programme), university staff training and teaching for business staff. The programme should further expand the educational opportunities it offers in the coming years, with a target of 3 million ERASMUS students by 2012.
How ERASMUS works
Higher education institutions which want to participate in ERASMUS activities must have an ERASMUS University Charter. The Charter aims to guarantee the quality of the programme by setting certain fundamental principles. The European Commission is responsible for the overall programme implementation; its Directorate-General for Education and Culture coordinates the different activities. So called “decentralised actions” that promote individual mobility are run by national agencies in the 33 participating countries. “Centralised” actions, such as networks, multilateral projects and the award of the ERASMUS University Charter, are managed by the EU’s Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.