Erasmus+ struggling to attract apprentices

Erasmus students at Austria's Fasching carnival. [Samuel White]

Three million students have studied abroad with Erasmus+, but only 5,000 apprentices have taken part in the exchange. France and Germany are joining forces to increase the programme’s uptake. EURACTIV France reports

An undeniable success for students, the Erasmus exchange programme was broadened in 2013 to include apprentices. But in practice, few of them have taken advantage of the opportunity.

“5,000 apprentices have already benefitted from the programme, and some businesses are already involved in the system,” said Antoine Godbert, the director of the French Erasmus+ agency. Compared to the three million students that have taken advantage of the exchange programme since its launch, this figure is hardly impressive.

>> Read: Commission threatens to loot Erasmus budget to finance Juncker Plan

France and Germany have launched a pilot project to accelerate the uptake of Erasmus+ among professionals and apprentices. By including around 50 apprentices from 11 big French companies, the aim of the pilot is to improve international professional exchanges and identify the best practices that could be used to enlarge the programme across more companies and more countries.

Currently, only big companies like Michelin, BASF and L’Oréal, which all have large branches in both countries, are involved in the scheme.

Success for students

The French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Harlem Désir, said, “There is no reason why Erasmus+, which is such a success for students, cannot also be a success for apprentices.”

“We have been talking about this project for a long time,” he added. The Erasmus programme has been open to those in professional education since November 2013, under the name Erasmus+.

>> Read: EU ministers sign off on budget winners: Erasmus+, Horizon 2020

The broadening of the Erasmus programme was accompanied by a 40% budget increase for the period 2014-2020. This made €14.7 billion available for grants and other sources of financial support for mobility.

With this new and improved budget, the EU hopes that a further four million young European between the ages of 13 and 30 will be able to benefit from the exchange programme by 2020.

“Broadening the section of society that has access to mobility is important,” said Béatrice Angrand, the secretary general of the Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO). As a partner of the initiative, the FGYO will provide grants for apprentices that come to Germany, as well as language classes and training seminars.

A number of drawbacks

“There are a number of obstacles that we cannot deny,” admitted Harlem Désir.

Loïc Armand the president of L’Oréal France and vice-president of MEDEF Europe, a French business lobby group, said, “In my company, when I proposed the apprenticeship programme, they told me it was impossible.” 

The first drawback is the lack of harmonisation in European professional training. For higher education, the Bologna Process established a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), which means master and doctorate level qualifications can be recognised across Europe, facilitating mobility.

But professional training programmes are far from harmonised, and problems with the recognition of qualifications often undermine the best of intentions.

>> Read: Erasmus+ wants to reach beyond university students

Arrangements are further complicated by differing course dates and the division of apprentices’ time between training centres and professional immersion. “Arranging the timetables and the alternation phases is a real problem,” said French Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri.

France and Germany hope that this pilot project will help them to identify and iron out any more potential problems with the Erasmus+ scheme. 

Taken from the name of the theologian and humanist Erasmus, of Rotterdam (1465-1536), the EU's education and mobility programme allows young Europeans to spend time in one of its 33 partner countries.

These include all 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

Around 3 million young Europeans have benefitted from the programme since its launch in 1987.

The latest version of Erasmus, named Erasmus+, combines the old programmes of Erasmus (students), Comenius (School pupils), Leonardo da Vinci (apprentices) and Grundtvig (adults in training) for the period 2014-2020. 

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