Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

European Identity and University Students: A Comparative Study of Italy and Belgium

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

European Identity and University Students: A Comparative Study of Italy and Belgium

Article excerpt


The background to the present paper is firmly routed in the relationship between training and European integration; this relationship has a relatively recent history, strengthened and formalized through the Lisbon Treaty, which marked a turning point in educational processes within the strategic objective of the Union, thus recognizing for the first time the leading role of education in economic and social development. A knowledge-based economy (Lisbon, 2000) largely depends on investment in human capital in the perspective of life-long learning which thus involves formal, non-formal, and informal learning processes.

In this light, almost every European University shares the ambitious goal of the promotion of mobility, providing young people with the opportunity to either undertake or continue studies in another EU country, thus creating a European Higher Education Space (EHES). Over recent decades, significant resources have been, and continue to be, invested in mobility programmes, seen as a necessary prerequisite for open and dynamic European contexts able to aid European integration and labour market mobility.

In the wide range of programmes that the European Commission has launched in order to promote the building of European identity within member states, the best known EU mobility action is the Erasmus Programme established in 1987 which remains the EU "flagship" within all education and training programs (Teichler, 2001).

This paper begins from empirical evidence, supported by a systematic and scientifically based evaluation process, of the Erasmus programme as being not only effective in increasing human capital in individuals but also their cosmopolitan orientation.

Previous studies, albeit with differing methodologies, confirm the Erasmus programme as representing a valid example of the achievement of EU objectives in the field of higher education (European Commission, 2011): a period of study abroad, beyond the development of knowledge and the practice of a foreign language, contributes to employment opportunities and career development in an international context (Jacobone & Moro, 2014). These findings clearly confirm the results of previous studies carried out by the Kassel Centre for Research on Higher Education and Work (Johanson et al., 2009), and the CHEPS consortium (European Commission, 2008): a period of study abroad increases opportunities for job placement (Van Mol, 2011) both in the home country and abroad, thus favouring geographical mobility in the future career of students and ensuring European competitiveness within global economics.

The assumption of this work is that such effects are, moreover, combined with social and cultural factors in the panorama of the creation of European citizenship and the forging of a European consciousness.

Subsequent to a period spent studying abroad, students tend to become more aware of cultural differences, more open-minded and respectful of other cultures (Ersoy & Günel, 2011). Furthermore, student mobility represents part of a wider project aimed at creating a shared sense of membership across European countries: the mobility and mixing of European youth leads to the consolidation of a "People's Europe" and the creation of European citizens (Ballatore, 2010).

Moving from the theoretical assumption of the effectiveness of student mobility in developing identity, this paper aims, through a cross-cultural comparison, to contribute to a better understanding of how a shared identity across Europe may vary according to a range of economic, political and, particularly, cultural factors.

Focus has been placed on the specific target of those students who participated in the Erasmus Programme, beginning from the assumption that young people who study in another part of Europe contribute significantly to the building of Europe itself, breaking down social and cultural barriers among Europeans. Similarly, several studies demonstrate that "mobile" students have the highest levels of openness to Europe compared with those students considered "non-mobile" (Bettin Lattes & Bontempi, 2008). …

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