Erasmus Mundus celebrated 20 years in Brussels

Erasmus+ CZELO

The birthday conference focused both on impact so far and future developments.

On 27 and 28 May, representatives of the European Commission, EACEA, national agencies, participating consortia including Czech universities (Charles University, Palacký University in Olomouc and the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague), students and alumni celebrated 20 years of Erasmus Mundus. The birthday conference was attended by more than 350 people in person and 500 online, and it included also a birthday cake and the blowing out of 20 candles. 

Erasmus Mundus 20 let

The impact of Erasmus Mundus projects 

Discussions during the first day focused on the success of the Erasmus Mundus action so far and its impact on individuals, participating institutions and the whole higher education system at both national and European levels.  

The day was opened by the EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Iliana Ivanova. She highlighted how Erasmus Mundus has changed the lives of 50,000 students from 179 countries and promoted innovation in higher education and its international dimension. She also stressed that Erasmus Mundus is highly linked to the European Universities Initiative and the recently published European Commission's Higher Education Package, introducing the Blueprint for European Degree. Pia Ahrenhilde Hanen from DG EAC then emphasized in her speech that Erasmus Mundus was the first programme to have a global dimension within Erasmus+. She also mentioned that over the past 20 years, more than 600 HEIs have implemented more than 580 projects and 35,000 students have been awarded scholarships to study in Europe

The conference gave space not only to HEIs involved in Erasmus Mundus projects, but also to students and alumni of the programmes. Thus, among the opening remarks was a speech by an alumna who shared her first impression when she discovered Erasmus Mundus: "At first it sounded like a scam. Everything was paid for, the scholarship covered travel..." It was not a scam, and the student with a visual impairment successfully studied an international programme in several countries. But not without obstacles. She, therefore, appealed to consortia implementing Erasmus Mundus to partner with organizations dedicated to helping people with disabilities to better support and ensure inclusive access for all. 

Representatives of universities involved in Erasmus Mundus projects included the Rector of the University of Barcelona. She underlined that if the European University Alliances are to become a model for future university cooperation, we must not forget that they build on the 20 years of experience and hard work of Erasmus Mundus. She also said that Erasmus Mundus projects are based on mutual trust in different teaching methods and professors, which is not easy to build. Harmonizing different conservative cultures and practices is also a challenge. The changing and increasingly complex needs of European students require a more dynamic and flexible educational offer from universities.  

During the first day, ACA representatives also presented a new publication mapping the impact of Erasmus Mundus on institutions, individuals and systems. The publication is the result of research based on EACEA data, two extensive questionnaires and consultations with more than 165 experts and it analyses 4 different funding periods. The main conclusions of the study are that Erasmus Mundus has had an impact on the situation at the national level, has in many cases brought about legislative changes (e.g. on tuition fees and language requirements) and has been a stimulus for the implementation of the Bologna Process tools. Erasmus Mundus projects have also been taken into account in the creation of the Blueprint for the European Degree and have contributed to promoting Europe as an attractive study destination. As regards the institutional impact on the universities involved, the study notes a positive perception of the impact of Erasmus Mundus projects on international university cooperation, learning and teaching and administrative processes. 

The follow-up panels then discussed the uniqueness of the Erasmus Mundus concept as a bottom-up initiative, which is part of its success. Panelists also highlighted that it mainly supports students, and although HEIs do not receive much funding, they are still highly motivated. The impact of Erasmus Mundus on institutions in terms of innovative learning and the internationalization of the education offer, including the interdisciplinary approach, was frequently mentioned in the discussions. Universities also highlighted the positive impact of Erasmus Mundus on the reputation of HEIs. The University of Padua, for example, observed that Erasmus Mundus programmes have increased its position in the QS rankings.  

The involvement of students and employers in curriculum development and assessment, which also allows for a better definition of skills needed for the labor market, was also discussed. Another big topic was the accreditation of joint programmes and visas. Regarding accreditation, panelists agreed that the European approach allowing for one accreditation across countries was approved in 2015, but only half of the member states allow for it, which needs to change. The debate also covered the sustainability of the programmes in case of non-renewal of financial support from the European Commission. Several representatives of such programmes said that sustainability was not an issue for them. The academic offer and the involvement of teachers remained the same after the end of the grant, mainly due to the alumni of the programme contributing to its visibility. They also noted that many students are willing to pay for Erasmus Mundus and so universities can use this branding to ensure sufficient funding. 

Possible developments and a way forward  

On the second day, the conference focused on the future of the Erasmus Mundus action and possible developments in the new programming period 2028-2035, including the possibility of extending it to the Bachelor level, incorporating hybrid or virtual mobility and strengthening the European or global dimension.  

Concerning the dilemma of the "European versus global" dimension of Erasmus Mundus, participants agreed that both dimensions need to be strengthened. Strengthening the global dimension is particularly beneficial for the involvement of non-European universities and for deepening the global partnerships of European HEIs. Therefore, the potential of student influencers, digital tools and media, as well as local Erasmus Student Networks (ESN) at universities, should be fully exploited. There is a need to target students both outside Europe and in European universities, as they are less aware of Erasmus Mundus programmes. 

When asked whether Erasmus Mundus should also be opened up to students at the bachelor or PhD level, universities representatives in particular were reserved. The main reason is that students in Bachelor programmes are less mature, more likely to change majors or universities as a whole. It would also be administratively complicated in terms of significantly more applications and recognition of secondary school qualifications from non-European countries. As regards PhD students, joint PhD programmes are already funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie action under the Horizon Europe programme, so there is no need for duplicating funding at this level. The discussions concluded that the Master's level should remain the cornerstone of Erasmus Mundus.  

Regarding the possibility of introducing a compulsory joint degree requirement for Erasmus Mundus grants, participants agreed that national legislative barriers in some countries need to be removed first. In this context, participants referred to the European Degree initiative and stressed that Erasmus Mundus should not in the future be linked only to alliances of European universities. However, they acknowledged that now is a good time to experiment in this area and that Erasmus Mundus is a good platform to test the European Degree, as most of the programmes meet the proposed criteria. 

The last topic discussed, concerning future prospects and possible adaptations of the programme, was the requirements for physical mobility and the possible introduction of blended and virtual mobilities. In this respect, there was a consensus that physical mobility is very important in Erasmus Mundus and cannot be replaced by other formats. However, blended or virtual mobility can complement physical mobility, for example in the form of extra courses. An increase in the number of compulsory mobilities from the current two periods is also not welcome as it would bring complications for students in terms of accommodation and visas. 

Regarding the funding model, participants assessed the current model as satisfactory and did not suggest any changes. However, there was a suggestion that the student's mobility destination should be taken into account, as a uniform amount of scholarship regardless of the purchasing power of the country and the cost of living is not efficient.  

At the end of the conference, 20 candles were blown out on a birthday cake. We can only wish Erasmus Mundus all the best for the years to come. 

The full program of the conference and the recording of the first day is available on the Erasmus Mundus community website