Erasmus+ is an important instrument to promote the inclusion of people with disadvantaged backgrounds, especially newly arrived migrants, in response to critical events affecting European countries.” (Page 7, 2016 Programme Guide)
The yearly Erasmus+ Programme Guide was published late October last year. The grand majority of us are likely to be familiar with this successful European project, which allows students to study in other European countries. In fact, it is also likely that the grand majority of us have dealt with the bureaucratic process that comes together with the pleasures of sipping wine on a blanket in Champ de Mars, Paris or wandering around La Rambla, Barcelona. With the entry of this new document comes an important novelty that will hopefully manage to reach the set expectations.
But let’s proceed by order. 2014 was the first of the seven-year framework of the European Commission that, among others, has introduced some significant changes to the education sector. For instance, it aims to all the existing programmes in a joint and coordinated programme, the Erasmus+.
The changes introduced with the launch of the Horizon 2020 (H2020) funding programme applicable for the 2014-2020 period were seen as functional for a common educational strategy of the EU. The plan is essentially bring together the Higher Education Area (in charge, for example, of the most well known Erasmus and Erasmus Mundus programmes) with the Vocational Education and Training (VET) programmes focused mainly on allowing young people to enter the job market. In the 27 years of its existence, multiple successes were recorded: 3.3 million students took part in the Erasmus exchanges and the number of participants has been constantly increasing over the years. Studies have shown that young people deeply benefit from participating in the Erasmus programme, both in terms of personal and professional growth. In fact, the addition of this experience on résumés often attracts future employers. For many of us being an Erasmus student has meant feeling like a part of European multiculturalism for the very first time.
What makes the new Programme Guide particularly interesting is the decision to use it as a means to bring together diverse cultures, in an effort to better integrate especially given the recent, large waves of migration. In particular to youth projects, this means that organizations wishing to apply for Erasmus+ funds will need, from now on, to prove their capability of reaching disadvantaged, such as refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. It is projects of this nature that will be awarded special attention. As the European Agenda on Migration restated, additional funds will be allocated to such initiatives, consisting of at least 20% of the European Social Fund (ESF) for the H2020 period. Projects addressing the improvement of language and vocational skills, as well as cultivating inter-cultural awareness will be able to benefit from these grants.
To this extent the EU has also actively campaigned for migration-related targets when discussing the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) by the United Nations. It has previously pointed out the important contribute that migration could have in reaching these goals, especially if supported by proactive and inclusive policies. The EU itself showed its intentions of working in this direction and in November 2015 carried out a survey among organisations working in school education, VET, and adult learning in order to gather examples of the best practices relating to initiatives implemented so far. The results brought evidence of the main difficulties faced while attempting to better integrated migrants and refugees. The results also raised numerous positive examples of existing projects across several EU Member States. This helped contribute to the European Commission’s plan for future actions. Among the 256 replies received from fifteen countries, it is perhaps worthwhile to mention a couple: the Dutch pre-teaching framework for VET focused more directly on the possibility of accessing the job market, the initiative launched in Slovenia, Early Integration of Migrants” (EIM), to ensure a smoother transition into European society, or even the friendship programme between high school students and groups of young refugees in Finland. In a nutshell, the survey responses mainly agreed on the need for a better strategy to share information about good practices across the EU, such as Erasmus+, and for the necessity to provide networking opportunities for projects and organisations.
To conclude, this seems like the start of what could become a truly positive initiative of the European Union. The latter should make good use of the positive leverage of its Erasmus programme in order to build a more coherent and inclusive action plan, especially in relation to incoming migrants. This could be the chance to really prove what the + stands for in the newly changed name of this EU programme, the added value of that comes with being a European community, a Union.