New Erasmus programme “Erasmus plus attaches much greater importance to quality”

Logo Erasmus+
Logo Erasmus+ | © NA in DAAD

Erasmus plus is the name of the European Union’s new education programme. Siegbert Wuttig, Director of the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation in Germany, explains what has changed compared to the old Erasmus programme.

Mr Wuttig, since 1987 the European Union’s successful Erasmus programme has provided funding to three million students across Europe. A “plus” was added to its name in 2014 – does that mean the programme has been enhanced as well?

First of all, the “plus” means more money for Europe-wide mobility and education cooperation among European countries. The European Union’s heads of state and government have increased the education budget by 40% for the next seven years, to 14.8 billion euros. That’s an important political signal, especially for the young generation. At a time of high unemployment, it gives them the chance to spend time abroad acquiring additional qualifications that will benefit them in the European job market. Erasmus plus also forms part of the EU’s new integrated umbrella programme covering the whole range of education and training activities – from school and vocational education and training to adult and higher education to youth and sport.

What is new in terms of substance?

The message is that whatever proved successful in the old Erasmus programme is being retained, but the new funding opens up additional opportunities. One of the aims is to provide support to more Europeans– a total of four million by 2020, including around two million students. Under the old Erasmus programme, students were able to spend one period of between three and 12 months studying or completing an internship in another European country. Now the minimum duration of an internship is two months and funding can be provided multiple times: 12 months for a bachelor’s programme (whether studying or doing an internship), 12 months for a master’s programme and another 12 months for a PhD programme. This means that funding is available for a maximum period of 36 months – also for industrial internships that are completed between degrees. Finally, there is also the option of obtaining funding to complete a master’s degree abroad, with a low-interest loan of up to 18,000 euros for a two-year master’s programme and favourable repayment terms. Applications for funding can be made in all countries, irrespective of parental income.

“Better job opportunities”

What are the changes expected to bring for higher education?

The idea behind having an integrated programme is to ensure, for example, that universities with vocational training facilities, businesses or schools and teachers training colleges move beyond the realm of education by entering into strategic and thematic partnerships, by jointly implementing innovative projects and strengthening their international orientation. Erasmus plus also wants to build a bridge to the European job market by, say, giving young people the opportunity, between their periods of study, to gain experience of this market by completing industrial internships abroad. Promoting mobility is no longer just about furthering personal development, it’s also meant to help students to improve their job prospects later on. And it’s no longer just a matter of two million students going abroad, it’s also about the quality of mobility.

How do we ensure higher-quality stays abroad?

We need to improve the recognition of studies or internships completed abroad. To achieve that, help is available to universities in the preparation, support and follow-up of stays abroad. The Commission also offers online preparatory courses in the five major European languages English, German, French, Spanish and Italian, which are supported by tutors. This is designed to help Erasmus students reach the required language level and make their stay abroad and the process of integration at the university or company more successful.

In an age of digital networking, why is it still important to promote mobility?

Virtual mobility can never replace real mobility. It doesn’t allow us to gain intercultural experience in the other country or give us the important opportunity to confront and resolve problems that arise while staying and dealing directly with people there. A survey of some 8,000 Erasmus students shows that the most important experience is gained by living together with other Europeans in the host country – for example, sharing accommodation with people of different nationalities. This broadens people’s horizons and encourages political debate. And it can help the young generation develop a sense of European identity – something Europe needs more urgently than ever, now and in the future.

Acting on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has, since 1987, assumed the function of a National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation (including Erasmus) in Germany. Since 2014, the various EU programmes have been integrated under the umbrella of Erasmus plus.