The Erasmus programme has changed consistently since its modest beginnings three decades ago. Since then, a total of nine million people have taken part in it.
It all started with the idea of an Italian lady, Sofia Corradi, who fought, heart and soul, to convince European universities to set up an exchange programme as part of their study options. A pioneer herself, she lived a first-hand student exchange experience at Columbia University in the United States, after which, her degree was not recognized by the University of Rome. She thus spent years lobbying to persuade those in the academia who didn't believe in it.
Now, it is more and more clear how the Erasmus Programme has not only benefited 5 million students, but also teaching staff, across Europe and the environment in which the exchange students live, fostering highly positive changes in academic, social, cultural, training and economic life in Europe. It concretely contributes to the development of a sense of a European identity – as an identity that complements the national, regional, local ones.
The programme as such was established in 1987 as an exchange programme for high-education students. Ever since the first year, when 3200 students from 11 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK) participated, the programme has constantly been evolving. Today, Erasmus+ offers a wide range of opportunities in higher education, vocational education and training, school education, adult education, youth and sport. It has stronger links with the labour market and non-formal learning world, providing opportunities that prepare young people for the job market and for participation in civic life.
Though the number of Erasmus participants increases by one million every three years (every year there are, in fact, around 300,000 more exchange students), its budget has not been increased accordingly: €17 billion out of a €1 trillion budget is not enough for this important tool of citizenship.
The most likely problem is that the European budget represents less than 1% of the GDP of Member States and we approximately spend 40% of the EU budget on agriculture, 40% on structural funds and too little on human capital and research. Time to rethink of the EU’s budgetary priorities post-2020?
In addition to this, the 30th Anniversary of Erasmus coincides with another milestone of European integration: the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Both anniversaries celebrate a common goal: strenghthening European identity and learning about cultural diversity.
So it seems 2017 will be a year of both celebrating Erasmus achievements, but also a year to reflect on the future Europe.