Cornerstone Erasmus+ programme undergoes key adjustments in times of turmoil 

Do we still need to present Erasmus+? In 2019, nearly 940,000 people in Europe either studied, trained, or volunteered abroad through the European Union’s mobility and cooperation programme for education, training, youth, and sport. On 25 March 2021, the European Commission launched the new Erasmus+ programme for the 2021-2027 period together with its first open calls for projects. For this new programme, the focus is on inclusiveness, digitalisation, and sustainability. Nevertheless, the transition between the previous programme (2014-2020) and the new one is starting in challenging times: Brexit, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, forced the EU to revise one of its most successful flagship programmes to provide an effective response and to stay competitive over the long-term, hence impacting its work programme.

Renewing Erasmus+ in times of COVID-19 and Brexit 

In order to reach its ambitious goals, the European Commission went the extra mile and doubled the budget of the new 7-year Erasmus+ programme: €26,6 billion will be invested over this period (€14,7 billion were allocated to the 2014-2020 Erasmus+ programme). The new budget is divided as follows: 83% will go to education and training, 10.3% will be allocated to youth programmes and 1.9% to sports and will ensure the mobility of the 12 million prospective students throughout 2021-2027. Nonetheless, it will also be redistributed between the numerous projects and open calls that are scheduled to open, such as the Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs): in 2021, €44 million will be invested in the establishment of these European platforms, compared to €20 million in 2020. The call is open for submissions until 7 September 2021. All the European Commission initiatives for the 2021-2027 Erasmus+ period are published on its website; amongst others, the call for Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters is also currently open (EMJM).

The recent releases of some of  Horizon Europe work programmes give an insight into the possibilities for Erasmus+ & HE joint actions, such as the MSCA’s calls for Doctoral networks and Postdoctoral fellowships or EIT’s upcoming calls, which will be designed to include additional higher-education institutes and research organisations. Both programmes are intended to foster the career development opportunities for young people across Europe, and include green, digital, and inclusive targets.

“The fact that the Erasmus+ budget for the next seven years has almost doubled shows the importance given to education, lifelong learning and youth in Europe. Erasmus+ remains a unique programme in terms of its size, scope and global recognition, covering 33 countries, and accessible to the rest of the world through its international activities.”

– Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth,
Source: European Commission’s press release

Nevertheless, the implementation of this new Erasmus+ programme was disrupted by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. After Brexit, UK students can no longer take part in Erasmus+, as the UK has stopped participating in the EU programme and it will not join as an associated third country. During the 2014-2021 period, between 16,000 and 17,000 UK students benefited from Erasmus+. For its part, the UK welcomed 31,000 Erasmus students. As a replacement, the UK established its own student exchange programme, the Turing scheme. All is not lost: the UK will associate with Horizon Europe, giving UK scientists and researchers access to most parts of the 2021-2027 EU Framework Programme, including projects in higher domains of education.

The new Erasmus+ programme had to be adjusted to tackle the long-term COVID-19 related challenges on student mobility. As of 2021, the programme includes a “Digital Erasmus+” strand, which allows short-term physical presence abroad, accompanied by online learning activities. But the key novelty is the creation of a European Student Card (ESC): this digital platform enables every student in mobility to easily identify themselves electronically at higher education institutions in Europe, hence increasing the efficiency of administrative processes by eliminating paperwork and lengthy registration procedures. This initiative is currently being deployed and is expected to be fully in place by 2025.

Towards a more inclusive, greener, and digital programme 

The ongoing transition from the 2014-2020 MFF term to the 2021-2027 one makes the Erasmus Work Programme building more complex than it usually is as the next 7-years Work Programme for education, training, youth, and sport has not yet been officially approved by EU institutions. The annual Erasmus + Work Programme for 2021 is nonetheless on its way to being officially adopted and is intended for the fulfilment of three key priorities: inclusiveness, digitalisation and focus on Higher Education (with the promotion of inter-connected higher education systems).

Putting emphasis on digitalisation will make Erasmus+ a key contributor to the European Education Area’s Digital Education Action Plan fulfilment and is highly relevant in the current times of social isolation and loneliness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Implementing an increasingly digitalised education ecosystem and placing greater value on related competencies is intended to allow for a smooth bottom-up transformation relying on millions of students ready to shape Europe’s future.

The European Commission is about to launch a commemorative €2 coin celebrating the Erasmus programme’s 35th anniversary and its various success stories. The winning design, which was chosen to represent the programme’s long-time mission for a united and inclusive Europe, is expected to be released by July 2022 across the Euro-area (19 countries).

In alignment with the European Green Deal and the newest R&I Horizon Europe programme, Erasmus+ will also promote education for environmental sustainability and will support  greener mobility across Europe. Indeed, the early stages of the 2021-2027 term also imply a bridging step from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe. The latter will fully integrate education across its whole framework and through various actions, such as MSCAs or EIT’s new KICs. With the overarching aim to modernise academic institutions, the programme also aims  to ensure easier access to studies for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Inclusion comes along as an even more relevant focus area within the Erasmus framework considering that it remains an efficient soft-power instrument that has tightened the links between millions of students from various cultures and played a pivotal role in the emergence of a European identity over its 34 years of existence. Its repeated mentions as a major EU success in Eurobarometer polls indicates how much it has been contributing to reinforcing the EU feeling and promoting EU integration throughout the years.

Supporting traineeships and student mobility in the EU 

The European Chemical Society, and more specifically the EuChemS Secretariat, recently had the opportunity to support youth employment in Europe via the Erasmus+ programme.  Since 2015, the portal EU4EU (acronym of “European Universities for the European Union”) offers a network platform for university students and companies in the EU. Students affiliated with partner universities can start an internship abroad, which is financed with Erasmus+ funds.

Through the portal EU4EU, EuChemS recruited two master students who are currently undertaking an internship on science policy within the EuChemS Secretariat office in Brussels, Belgium. As one of the host organisations of this Erasmus+ portal, EuChemS aims to support student mobility as well as education across Europe and hopes to facilitate the access to employment for young graduates.

Laura Jousset,
EuChemS Science Communication & Policy Officer

Maxine Boi,
EuChemS Erasmus Trainee

Timothée Jourdain,
EuChemS Erasmus Trainee