EUA has recently conducted a study on the implementation of International Credit Mobility towards disadvantaged students for the European Commission. Under the Support and Promotion for Higher Education Reform Experts initiative (SPHERE), the study addresses the capacity of the Erasmus+ programme to tackle equity and inclusion, by facilitating the access to participants from disadvantaged backgrounds and with fewer opportunities.
The Erasmus+ Programme is one of the major success stories of the European Union. With a wide range of opportunities for individuals and organisations alike, it is foreseen that until the end of this year more than 4 million people will have benefited from mobility opportunities under Erasmus+.
Launched in 2015 under the Erasmus+ Programme, the International Credit Mobility (ICM) supports student and staff exchanges between Erasmus+ Programme and Partner Countries. The study focuses on outgoing ICM student mobility from 20 Partner Countries in the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership and South-Mediterranean.
One of the main findings of the study is that, in ICM the focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds is much weaker than that intended by the European Commission. This is partly due to the fact that legal definitions of “disadvantage” in the Partner Countries vary, as does their implementation. While disadvantage is an additional selection criterion for students on the basis of equal academic merit, it is rarely used, and selection for the ICM is in most cases only based on academic and linguistic preparedness.
According to the students surveyed as part of this study, financial aspects are a very common obstacle to outward mobility from the Partner Countries, as students would be required to advance some of the costs for their stay abroad, and also to cover expenses which are not eligible, such as travel for the visa application. These are general problems for many students. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such obstacles are compounded by additional invisible barriers to mobility, as “disadvantage” is usually neither well defined nor commonly recognised, in society in general, or in higher education, or in the specific case of participation in mobility exchanges.
The study suggests a series of recommendations on how to enhance inclusion within ICM, which for an overwhelming majority of its beneficiaries remains an excellent programme, a powerful agent of change and a highly recommended experience.
The study has been conducted under the European Commission’s initiative “Support and Promotion for Higher Education Reform Experts” (SPHERE). The SPHERE Consortium comprises the University of Barcelona (coordinator) and the European University Association (EUA), and it provides training and networking opportunities for Higher Education Reform Experts (HEREs) and National Erasmus+ Offices (NEOs) in countries neighbouring the EU (former Tempus Partner Countries).