The ERASMUS programme through the eyes of young people

, by Ana Calatayud Márquez, translated by Elsie Haldane

All the versions of this article: [English] [Español]

The ERASMUS programme through the eyes of young people
Credit: Vasily Koloda, Unsplash.

Of all the policies carried out within the European Union, the ERASMUS programme is undoubtedly the one that is closest to the hearts of young Europeans, especially students. The programme, which stands for the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, is a scheme between various public administrations that facilitates and promotes the academic mobility of university students, as well as students at intermediate and higher education levels. The scheme operates between the member states of the project: in this case, the member states of the European Economic Area, Turkey, Switzerland and North Macedonia. However, despite the undeniable impact that the project has had since 1987, such as improving relationships between citizens from different countries within the EU through mutual understanding, there is still a long way to go to improve the areas that disrupt the progress of this cultural and linguistic exchange.

Considering the first source of obstacles to academic exchange, we find the biggest enemy of students who aspire to participate in the programme: course accreditation. The greatest fear when embarking on an adventure such as that offered by ERASMUS scholarships is not, unfortunately, the problems of adapting to the new culture, gastronomy or language: students are afraid of not being able to validate their subjects, and therefore losing a semester or even a year. This insecurity makes many hesitate, and many others change their minds and stay at their home universities. As if that were not enough, students who do decide to take the plunge find themselves in an absolute nightmare when it comes to organising their timetables and, clearly, getting accreditation for their courses. Despite the existence of coordinators who assist each participant individually, their help is only focused on approving subjects. The student, on the other hand, has to find subjects similar to the ones they should take, and await the verdict of the coordinators. For this reason, the validation system must be improved, firstly, by systematising the subjects between universities in order to make it easier for students and coordinators to find the equivalent in their ERASMUS destination. In addition, an increase in the possibility of accreditation between subjects would increase participation in the project, as the exchange would be much more profitable for many students thanks to a higher number of credits obtained.

Another aspect that the ERASMUS programme certainly lacks is immersion for students within their host countries. The idea of the project is first and foremost to encourage cooperation and cultural exchange between young Europeans, but students often do not get to know the traditions or even a minimum of the language of the country where they are living their ERASMUS experience. This is due to the large number of ERASMUS students in the world’s universities, which often prevents interaction with native speakers, as exchange students tend to interact with each other. Thus, in order to maximise the achievement of the project’s objective, the receiving universities should be in charge of implementing courses that allow the newly arrived international students to be in contact with the language, customs and traditions of that country. These courses, financed by the ERASMUS fund, should of course be compulsory to ensure this student-host country contact. Similarly, it would be interesting to set up projects in the universities participating in the programme to bring native students into contact with incoming students through activities of mutual interest. It would thus complement cultural immersion through understanding, solidarity and bonding between young people of different nationalities.

Finally, one last issue that could be improved relates to the maximum time per degree that students are allowed to spend on ERASMUS. The maximum time is twelve months, but this greatly reduces the number of destinations a student can immerse himself/herself in, as on average, young people do only one degree in their lifetime, giving them the option to spend only twelve months abroad. One idea for improvement is the extension of the time allowed per degree, so that motivated students who are eager to explore Europe and all its cultural diversity can really satisfy their curiosity by spending several academic years outside their home country.

Once the proposals have been presented, they are expected to be disseminated as widely as possible in order to reach the major European institutions and thus be included in the programmes for the coming years. In particular, in 2022, the European Year of Youth, new reforms to youth programmes should be considered. And what better way to make progress on these projects than by listening to young people themselves?

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