On Tuesday (21 September), the European Commission announced a significant upgrade to the app for students studying abroad on an EU-funded scheme, a week after EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced she would push to make 2022 the ’Year of European Youth‘.
The new app will allow students to select their study destination abroad on their phone, sign the necessary documents and get useful tips about the place where they are going, including from their peers.
“I am glad that the interface of our flagship programme for young people, Erasmus+, is becoming more like them. More digital, more mobile, and more community-oriented,” Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said in a statement.
According to Juan Rayon Gonzalez, president of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), “streamlining of procedures will convince more students to go abroad, but it will also increase the quality of the mobilities, improving the learning experience.”
In Gonzalez’s view, the app can clear up several issues with the EU’s going abroad programme, such as lack of access to the right information, lengthy procedures, and confusing timelines, while at the same time “fostering this idea of an Erasmus generation of students helping students”.
“Besides the administrative part, the community dimension of the app is extremely important and fundamental for this whole process. Students will be able to join activities read about the experience of their peers, and also find any kind of advice that they need to start their Erasmus journeys,” Gonzalez said.
Looking forward, EU Youth Coordinator Biliana Sirakova said the app eventually has the “potential to enhance democracy, enable digital active citizenship, and youth participation” by connecting young people to each other and EU policymakers in the future.
The European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, Mariya Gabriel, called the app “a major step towards the digitalisation” of Erasmus+ and the “starting point of a real European education area.”
Efforts to take the Erasmus experience online have already begun for the higher education institutions that host Erasmus students, with more than 4,000 universities participating in a project meant to allow them to securely and efficiently exchange student data.
The drive to connect higher education institutions hosting students is part of a wider Commission push for more integration between EU countries, supposed “to create a genuine European space of learning” by 2025.
While the EU countries’ education ministers agreed in February the Commission’s plan to achieve the so-called European Education Area by the middle of the decade, they also poured cold water on the idea that the bloc’s education integration should be its main priority.
“While moving towards the achievement of the European Education Area by 2025, the main goal of European cooperation in education and training should be to support the further development of education and training systems in the member states”, they said.
Students going abroad will also be able to get their European Student Card through the app, which unlocks access to services, museums, cultural activities and special deals.
“Let’s be honest, what we want is a European card for all students in Europe,” Gabriel admitted but expressed hope that first introducing a digital card for Erasmus students will create a “critical mass within universities” to move on starting resolving the technical difficulties of creating an EU-wide system.
Asked by EURACTIV if the new app would include all types of Erasmus+ participants, Gabriel said “we’re not differentiating.” She added that “what we saw during the crisis is that it is in fact VET [Vocational Education and Training], which had really suffered.”
Alternative forms of education and training have recently become a policy priority in Brussels, seen as a way to increase the reach of EU-funded mobility programmes and make them more inclusive.
The increased importance of VET is also reflected in the budget devoted to it. Until 2027, of the €20.4 billion foreseen for study abroad experiences, at least 21.5% is earmarked for VET, a 4.5% increase from the last budgetary period.
Meanwhile, von der Leyen announced last week a new, Erasmus-style work placement scheme abroad for EU youth not in employment or training, in an effort to counter the bloc’s youth unemployment crisis, deepened by the pandemic.
As of July 2021, 2.8 million people under 25 years of age were unemployed across the EU, of whom a total of 2.3 million come from inside the eurozone, according to Eurostat.
After a dip in the number of students going abroad due to the pandemic-induced border closures, 600,000 higher education students are expected to go abroad thanks to Erasmus+ 2021-2022.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]