EU Gives Students a Truly International Perspective; Hywel Ceri Jones Is a Former Director General for Employment, Social Policy and Industrial Relations in the European Commission, during Which Time He Was Responsible for the Launch of the Erasmus Scheme. Ahead of the EU Referendum, He Considers the Project's Value to Wales and Its Students

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

EU Gives Students a Truly International Perspective; Hywel Ceri Jones Is a Former Director General for Employment, Social Policy and Industrial Relations in the European Commission, during Which Time He Was Responsible for the Launch of the Erasmus Scheme. Ahead of the EU Referendum, He Considers the Project's Value to Wales and Its Students


MANY people will not have heard of the EU's Erasmus programme - but if they were to ask their student children or grandchildren, they might be surprised.

It's the EU programme that, every year, allows a third of a million students and university staff to go on exchange programmes to other universities in Europe and beyond. In a BBC EU referendum debate last week, Liam Fox tried to downplay the impact of the EU's Erasmus programme, arguing that student mobility programmes like Erasmus are not just for EU countries.

He's right on the second point, but wrong in thinking these programmes would exist without the EU.

True, 40 years ago, before the birth of the Erasmus programme, some UK students did spend a year abroad during their studies.

They were almost exclusively language students. Some spent their time in universities, others led English conversation classes as assistants in schools.

These valuable experiences helped British students improve their foreign language skills, exposing them to other cultures, but they touched only a tiny percentage of the student population.

The assistantship scheme then applied only to bilateral agreements involving France, Germany and the UK. Other European countries had virtually no incoming or outgoing students from Europe. In practice, many regions of the world remained inaccessible to British students.

Then in 1987, the European Community, as it then was, launched the Erasmus programme. It was designed to forge inter-university agreements on a scale never seen before which would recognise the period of study abroad as an integral part of the student's degree or quali-fication.

And scale up it did, with the enthusiastic backing of universities across Europe. The idea of a jointlyawarded qualification represented a huge plus on the student's CV for his or her future career.

In that first year, around 3,250 students moved between the 11 participating countries. Today, around 330,000 students and staff from 3,600 universities and colleges in Europe go on exchanges every year - a hundredfold increase.

More than 4,500 universities and colleges in Europe have signed up to the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education, which sets out the quality standards for sending and receiving students and staff.

The programme is so popular that in the last academic year nearly 10,000 students went on their exchange without an Erasmus grant to help with their extra costs, so keen were they not to miss out on the experience.

Students come from all disciplines, not just from modern languages - from humanities and the arts through business and law, social and natural sciences, mathematics and computing, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture and veterinary science, to medicine and nursing.

On average, each student exchange costs the EU less than [euro]2,000, including both grants and administration.

Among the students, over 60,000 went on work placements to improve their employability. …

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EU Gives Students a Truly International Perspective; Hywel Ceri Jones Is a Former Director General for Employment, Social Policy and Industrial Relations in the European Commission, during Which Time He Was Responsible for the Launch of the Erasmus Scheme. Ahead of the EU Referendum, He Considers the Project's Value to Wales and Its Students
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