The ERASMUS programme was established in 1987 and forms a major part of the European Union Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013. It is the operational framework for the European Commission's initiatives in higher education.
Aims of the programme
The aim of the ERASMUS Programme is to encourage and support academic mobility of higher education students and teachers within the European Union, the European Economic Area countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as well as candidate countries (such as Turkey). Switzerland is again eligible for membership as from 2007, after a period of absence following the rejection by that country of closer links with the European Union in the late 90s. During that period of absence Swiss universities pursued inter-university collaboration with other European institutions through a system closely based on ERASMUS.
Origins of the name
The programme is named after Erasmus of Rotterdam, a philosopher, known as an opponent of dogmatism, who lived and worked in many places in Europe to expand his knowledge and gain new insights, and who left his fortune to the University of Basel.
The ERASMUS Programme, together with a number of other independent programmes, was incorporated into the Socrates programme when that programme was established in 1995. The Socrates programme ended on 31 December 1999 and was replaced with the Socrates II programme on 24 January 2000. That, in turn, was replaced by the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013 as from 1 January 2007.
There are currently 2,199 higher education institutions participating in ERASMUS across the 31 countries involved in the Socrates programme and 1.4 million students have already taken part.
To participate in the ERASMUS programme students must be studying for a degree or diploma at a tertiary-level institution and must have completed their first year. They also have to be a citizen of one of the countries in the wider Lifelong Learning Programme.
Students who join the ERASMUS programme study for a period of 3 months to an academic year in another European country. The ERASMUS programme guarantees that the period spent abroad is recognised by their university when they come back as long as they abide by terms previously agreed.
A main part of the programme is that students do not pay extra tuition fees to the university that they visit. Students can also apply for an ERASMUS grant to help cover the additional expense of living abroad. Students with disabilities can also apply for additional grant to cover extraordinary expenses. The disability dimension is a part of EU work to promote opportunities for the disabled.
In order to reduce expenses and increase mobility, many students also use the European Commission-supported accommodation network, CasaSwap, which is a free website where students and young people can rent, sublet, offer and swap accommodation - on a national and international basis. A derived benefit is that students can share knowledge and exchange tips and hints with each other before and after going abroad.
The 'ERASMUS programme' content
The Erasmus Programme has a number of specific objectives:
1. to improve the quality and to increase the volume of student and teaching staff mobility throughout Europe, so as to achieve at least 3 million student and teacher exchanges by 2012
2. to improve the quality and increase the amount of multilateral cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe
3. to improve and increase cooperation between higher education institutions and enterprises
4. to spread innovation and new pedagogic practice and supports between universities in Europe
Apart from the student mobility mentioned in the first objective, which is the most visible and "iconic" element in the programme, support is also given to developing closer links between university faculties.
The History & Development of ERASMUS
By the time the Erasmus Programme was adopted in June 1987, the European Commission had been supporting pilot student exchanges for 6 years. It proposed the original Erasmus Programme in early 1986, but reaction from the then Member States varied: those with substantial exchange programmes of their own (essentially France, Germany and the United Kingdom) were broadly hostile; the remaining countries were broadly in favour. Exchanges between the Member States and Manuel Marin, the responsible member of the European Commission deteriorated, and the latter withdrew the proposal in early 1987 to protest against the inadequacy of the triennial budget proposed by some Member States. However, in the next few months a compromise was worked out with a majority of Member States, and the programme was adopted by simple majority in June 1987. This method of voting was not accepted by some of the opposing Member States, who challenged the adoption of the decision before the European Court of Justice. Although the Court held that the adoption was procedurally flawed, it maintained the substance of the decision; a further decision, adapted in the light of the jurisprudence, was rapidly adopted by the Council of Ministers.
The programme built on the 1981-1986 pilot student exchanges, and although it was formally adopted only shortly before the beginning of the academic year 1987/8, it was still possible for 3,244 students to participate in Erasmus in its first year. In 2006, over 150,000 students, or almost 1% of the European student population, took part. The proportion is higher among university teachers, where Erasmus teacher mobility is 1.9% of the teacher population in Europe, or 20,877 people.
In the past twenty years, well over one-and-a-half million students - 60% of ERASMUS being female - have benefited from ERASMUS grants, and the European Commission aims to reach a total of 3 million by 2012.
The Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-2013 replaced the Socrates programme as the overall umbrella under which the Erasmus (and other) programmes operate from 2007.