Erasmus - the world's largest university exchange programme - is 20 next year. Over a million students have taken part in this rewarding and challenging experience since it began in 1987. Celebrations will run throughout 2007 with a number of special events. Involving 2 000 institutions in 31 countries, the Erasmus scheme now covers 90% of European higher education establishments. Since its modest start it has become hugely successful, broadening the horizons of all those involved.
More than just an education programme, Erasmus has become a social and cultural phenomenon. It was the inspiration for "L'Auberge Espagnole", Klapish's delightful film on a multilingual student household in Barcelona. It is symbolic of what Europe does best. Above and beyond the direct learning experience, it creates a space for openness and tolerance and brings people together in a natural way. It promotes inter-cultural dialogue and encourages young people to think "European" - and to be mobile not just when studying, but also when entering the job market. Studies confirm that the Erasmus experience is considered valuable by employers, leading to better paid, more stable jobs.
From next year until 2013, Erasmus will run under the new Lifelong Learning Programme.
The target is to involve 3m students by 2012, giving each the chance to experience life abroad.
Erasmus covers more than student mobility; it encourages teachers in Europe to be mobile too, with some 21 000 also taking part in Erasmus exchanges this year. Based on cooperation agreements between higher education institutes, the network includes the 25 EU countries, 3 future and aspiring members (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey) and 3 associated countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).
Erasmus is an enriching experience not just for individuals but for society as a whole. "It is an excellent example of what coordinated European action in [...] education can achieve," said commission president Barroso. It also bodes well for the success of the proposed European Institute of Technology, which sets out to bridge the gap between higher education, research and innovation.
Events will be held throughout 2007 as Europe celebrates not only Erasmus but also the 50th anniversary of the EU itself.