EUROPE: Call to scrap Erasmus

Franck Biancheri, President of the trans-European political movement Newropeans, has proposed scrapping the EU Commission's Erasmus student exchange programme, claiming it is outdated. His voice could carry some weight as he actively participated in its establishment.

The 22-year-old scheme, which costs EUR440 million (US$650 million) a year, is not delivering value for money, Biancheri said, and should be returned to the member states. There was a need to produce managers trained to work through the EU who were at ease in several languages. More short-term exchanges should be developed for a greater number of students, also focusing on training them in more "civic oriented programmes" and democratic leadership.

On the future role for the scheme as a bridge to the framework programmes of the EU, and the Grand Challenges tackled by the Swedish EU presidency, he said: "The problem is not money, but relevance. Its bureaucratic procedures, linked with the incestuous nature of its steering/management/evaluation (the same researchers are generally in all three positions ensuring only friendly projects get significant funding), mean the objectives and priorities are almost always out of synch with the pace of real scientific research."

The Erasmus type of European discovery was adapted to give students a good flavour of another European country but was neither sufficient in number to have a significant democratic impact, nor in studies to train future EU managers of all kinds. Something costlier and shorter was needed.

Ligia Deca, Chair of the European Students Union, agreed the scheme had to change with more support for academically meaningful mobility but without narrowing it down to training multi-lingual managers, as Biancheri suggested.

Deca said entrepreneurship was a key competence for the future, but not the only one. "We agree with the call for more links with European citizens and that a branch of the programme should foster acquiring competence leading to active citizens with a sound democratic exercise."

The ESU's repeated call for more student-centred learning was the frame that reunited all these views, she said, as it called for student flexibility and allowed them to reach their full potential.

Inge Knudsen, Director of the COIMBRA Group Office in Brussels who has seen thousands of Erasmus students exchanged among the 38 universities of the group, was sceptical.

"The remark about having to train young managers is off the mark, especially when we are all trying to make higher education accessible to more young people who all need to carve out their place in society in the future," Knudsen said.

"It is not up to the Erasmus Programme to define what the students will become, it is up to higher education institutions to provide them with the knowledge they need to find their own way."

She said Erasmus was not outdated; it had managed to keep an open access policy, supporting mobility regardless of discipline, field of interest, country and so on.

"One can question whether the inclusion of work placements was the right move but it shows the programme is keeping up with the times and the reforms in providing the employment-oriented types of mobility as well as the more traditional 'academic' mobility."

This is what we are waiting for! The Erasmus program is too rigid. We want to provide opportunities for students to attend short courses at other universities as well as to invite a mix of students and teachers for short courses to us! This would promote knowledge sharing in an efficient way.

Camilla Alvhage