Erasmus+ – What is new for higher education?

Erasmus+ entered into force on 1 January 2014. It covers the different education sectors ranging from school to adult education as well as youth non-formal learning. As such, the new programme offers more opportunities for higher education to work with partners in the other education and youth sectors.

Its budget of €14.7 billion (US$20 billion) plus €1.68 billion for international actions in the area of higher education – referring to actions involving individuals and institutions from non-European Union countries – represents a rise of over 40% compared with the previous programmes.

Almost half of it will be devoted to higher education and will allow for significantly increased opportunities for students, academics, higher education institutions, enterprises and other academic and non-academic players. A few figures show the magnitude of the change:
  • • Erasmus+ will allow two million students to study and train abroad in the next seven years, compared to a total of three million students in the previous 26 years.
  • • Around 150 ‘knowledge alliances’, bringing together higher education institutions and enterprises with a view to fostering innovation, will be established, thus scaling up the current pilot project that funded a limited number per year in 2011-13.
  • • More than 25,000 students will receive full scholarships for high-level joint masters degrees as compared to 16,000 in the past 10 years.
  • • 200,000 masters students will benefit from the new loan guarantee scheme.
  • • 1,000 projects involving universities from other parts of the world will be funded to reinforce their capacities.
A new approach

But the changes are not only related to the scale of the budget.

While building on the successes of the past programmes – Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus and others – Erasmus+ represents a new approach that is embodied in a new, leaner architecture which will allow for enhanced impact and greater visibility.

The programme will establish closer links with the policy objectives of the EU Modernisation Agenda (2011) and the European Higher Education in the World (2013) communications from the European Commission, and will put a stronger focus on EU added value.

To achieve these goals, Erasmus+ will be structured around three key actions:
  • • Learning mobility of individuals – students, doctoral candidates, lecturers and staff: around 70% of the budget.
  • • Cooperation for innovation and good practices, in the form of partnerships between higher education institutions and-or businesses and other actors, and capacity building actions with institutions from non-industrialised countries: around 20% of the budget.
  • • Support for policy reform, aimed inter alia at supporting policy-making by EU member states through the ‘open method of coordination’, developing EU transparency and recognition tools or establishing policy dialogue with non EU countries: around 5% of the budget.
The clear link with policy objectives and the simplified architecture will ensure that the programme has a direct impact in raising excellence in higher education in the EU and beyond, benefitting:
  • • Individuals, by strengthening the quality requirements of learning mobility.
  • • Institutions, by offering new opportunities to higher education institutions in Europe and beyond to cooperate and establish strong partnerships.
  • • Policies, by addressing reform priorities jointly with public authorities, institutions and other stakeholders.
Within this new framework, I would underline the following three features of the new programme in the area of higher education:
  • • An unrelenting support to mobility as a driver for internationalisation and increased quality.
  • • Full integration of the international dimension – that is, cooperation with partners outside the EU – thus acknowledging the global context in which European higher education operates.
  • • Opening the programme even more to the participation of new players, particularly enterprises.
Reinforced quality, new instruments to support mobility

As shown by the figures, learning and learner mobility will feature high in the new programme.

Quality will be of paramount importance.

The new Erasmus Charter for Higher Education, which will be the passport for participation in the programme, will provide for the respect of the basic principle of non-discrimination and enhanced quality requirements covering issues such as recognition of study periods abroad, appropriate academic and linguistic support as well as assistance in areas such as visas, insurance and accommodation.

Moreover, the programme will offer more support to people with special needs and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Next to the classical Erasmus credit mobility, Erasmus+ promotes degree mobility, allowing students to earn a full degree abroad, through the new student loan guarantee and continuation of the successful experience of Erasmus Mundus joint masters degrees.

Erasmus+ introduces a student loan guarantee for masters students, allowing students to apply for a loan to cover their masters studies in another country.

Students will be able to borrow up to €12,000 for a one-year course – and €18,000 for a two-year course – from national banks or student loan agencies participating in the scheme at affordable rates and with deferred payment of up to two years after graduation.

The Erasmus+ programme in cooperation with the European Investment Bank Group provides a partial guarantee against default to participating financial institutions.

Since they were first introduced by the Erasmus Mundus programme 10 years ago, joint degrees have become a successful and distinctive European feature in the global higher education landscape and a vehicle to attract talent to Europe.

Consortia bringing together higher education institutions can receive funding for offering joint masters courses. For this, they have to develop a joint curriculum and joint student application, selection, admission and examination criteria.

Moreover, they must offer students a recognised mobility period in at least two of the higher education institutions involved in the course and guarantee the delivery of a joint, double or multiple degree to all successful students. Preference goes to joint degrees but they are not always feasible for legal or administrative reasons.

In order to increase synergies between different EU programmes and to provide applicants with a clearer funding landscape, joint masters degrees are funded through Erasmus+ while joint doctoral degrees will be funded under Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions of Horizon 2020.

Full integration of the international dimension

All EU international academic cooperation programmes – that is, those dealing with countries and regions outside the EU – are now integrated under Erasmus+ in order to put an end to the previous fragmentation of instruments.

This new approach acknowledges that the higher education scene is global – and national or even regional approaches are no longer adequate. While certain actions are a continuation from the past – joint degrees, capacity building actions – two novelties are introduced:
  • • The funding of international actions will be more stable and predictable. A budget of €1.68 billion from the external assistance instruments of the European Union* is earmarked for Erasmus+. This will be done through two allocations, the first one for the first four years of the programme and the second for the remaining three years.

    While the final contribution of each instrument, and therefore the budget allocated to each region, is still to be decided according to the thematic and geographical priorities of EU external action, this new approach will provide a more predictable framework for EU and non-EU higher education actors to establish longer term partnerships.

  • • The internal EU Erasmus mobility programme will be open to the world. Thus, mobility for students and staff will be established on the basis of inter-institutional agreements between EU and non-EU higher education institutions, which will incorporate the main principles of the Erasmus Charter and its reinforced quality requirements.
Erasmus+ will therefore fund a larger number of internationally mobile students and scholars involving a larger number of institutions.

Beyond its impact on individuals, the programme will reinforce the international academic and administrative capacity of higher education institutions, which will not only send and receive scholars and students, but will equally have to implement all the principles of the charter, including those referring to credit transfer and recognition.

This should pave the way for a greater comparability of curricula and therefore ensure a greater systemic impact.

Capacity building actions will continue, as under Tempus or Alfa, supporting joint projects and structural measures. They will now also include Asia, which was not the case in the previous programming period.

Increased opportunities for cooperation with business

More than ever before, Erasmus+ fosters cooperation with less traditional actors in the field of higher education, and in particular business, thereby providing a whole range of new opportunities to higher education institutions and their students and staff.

While the value of cooperation between the labour market and higher education now seems generally recognised, establishing contacts and strong partnerships is not always easy. Erasmus+ offers the framework conditions and incentives to establish such cooperation, notably through the ‘knowledge alliances’ and through traineeships and staff mobility.

The knowledge alliances, building on the experience of the pilot phase and the previous Tempus programme, are the main vehicle for structured cooperation between higher education and business.

Consortia involving higher education institutions and companies will work together in a field of their choice to develop new approaches to teaching and learning, stimulate the entrepreneurial skills of students, academics and company staff, and facilitate knowledge exchange.

And there are also numerous opportunities for individuals to benefit from experience with the business sector.

As in the previous programme period, students can go abroad for a traineeship, either before or up to one year after graduation, and staff from higher education institutions can go abroad and receive training in a company, while company staff can be invited as visiting lecturers.

With its increased budget and focus on achieving impact, Erasmus+ will maximise the EU's contribution to the modernisation of higher education, thereby facilitating the ability of higher education institutions to respond to pressing challenges that are crucial for Europe's future and its ability to achieve prosperity through economic growth and job creation.

* The external assistance instruments of the European Union are the European Neighbourhood Instrument, Partnership Instrument, Pre-Accession Instrument and Development Cooperation Instrument.

* Jordi Curell is director of higher education and international affairs in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture.