In 1987, 3,200 students from different European countries participated in a pioneering programme, which, based on the idea of promoting mobility, intercultural competence and the European dimension, is still considered the flagship of cooperation in education in The EU. Three decades later, approximately 300,000 students benefited from the Erasmus 2017 programme . It has had nine million participants in its 30-plus years of life.
The signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, with which the European Union was officially created, came to support the idea of the free movement of students and researchers in the European context. Later, the EU’s 2020 development strategy agreed on the importance of investing in human capital to drive economic development and internationalisation. Mobility was one of the central pieces for a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in 2025 .
In 2017, the Erasmus program (currently Erasmus+ ) celebrated its 30th anniversary. It is, without a doubt, a recognized and successful initiative of the EU, which has awarded scholarships to promote the mobility of students and staff, for the development of intercultural competence and the promotion of the European dimension. The idea behind the Erasmus program was visionary : “Promote joint study courses between universities and higher education institutions”. There is no doubt that the Erasmus program has stimulated mobility flows for university students and has contributed to the current international orientation of the EHEA.
Spain, leader of the Erasmus+ program
Over time, Spain has established itself, in number of participants, as the main country of origin and destination of the program. The growth of international study mobility in Spain was especially evident between 2001 and 2011, a period in which the number of entries and exits doubled, reaching a total of 36,842 outgoing students and 42,537 incoming students in 2014–2015
In financial terms, during the academic year 2013–2014, the Erasmus program invested more than €580 million to finance the study mobility of around 272,000 students and 57,000 teachers and administrative staff.
For the period 2014–2020, the European Commission increased the budget allocation for the Erasmus+ program by 40%, reaching a total of €14.7 billion. Given the figures involved, knowing the real impact of the program on the student body has become a topic of growing interest .
Types of mobility
Various types of student mobility are defined in the literature. Vertical mobility is “inward mobility from other parts of the world, from a lower level to an advanced educational level”, and horizontal mobility would be intra-European mobility between programs of equal value. In the EHEA, horizontal mobility has prevailed since the Bologna process established coherent study programs where students can study under equal conditions.
Depending on the length of the period spent abroad, there are two types of mobility: degrees and credits. Degree mobility is a “long-term mobility of students for the purpose of completing a full course of study and acquiring a degree abroad”, including participation in a jointly awarded degree programme.
Credit mobility is “a temporary enrollment abroad with the aim of continuing studies, but finishing them in the country of origin”.
Another distinction is its direction: incoming or outgoing. Incoming mobility is “mobility to the country of destination” or “the country where the student moves”. Outgoing mobility is “mobility from the country of origin” or “the country from which the student moves”.
In the most recent guide to the Erasmus+ programme, the term learning mobility covers mobility for a variety of stakeholders (students, staff, associations, volunteers, young workers and young people) for the purpose of learning.
The guide specifies that “while long-term physical mobility is strongly encouraged”, there should be more flexible durations to ensure that the program is accessible to all students, regardless of their background, circumstances and fields of study.
Impact of international mobility
Despite the enormous spread of Erasmus, there are few empirical studies on the ability of students to identify and experience cultural differences. It would be especially interesting to investigate the individual variables, such as the cultural background of the students and their different contexts, and the different characteristics of the study abroad program.
Additionally, few, if any, studies address students’ abilities to learn, internalize, and reuse intercultural competencies in their lives.
Most study abroad programs seek to achieve multiple goals , including academic skills (eg, language skills), professional development (eg, sense of responsibility), personal development (eg, flexibility), and intercultural competence (eg, flexibility). for example, diminished ethnocentrism).
Is it always positive?
Universities, governments, employers and students themselves tend to automatically assume that international mobility of study programs has a positive impact .
However, exposure to cultural differences during study abroad does not automatically increase intercultural understanding, unless students’ reflective processes are explicitly fostered by institutions prior to departure and prior to return from mobility experiences. .
The development of students’ intercultural competence may depend , in particular, on their initial levels, gender (women benefit more), their development in international mobility programs, or the opportunities to maintain intercultural relationships.
Our context requires university institutions to focus their efforts on the citizens of the coming decades. They must have the skills to face the new challenges: the flow of citizens between countries, political restructuring and the socioeconomic order herald transformations that will require the participation of responsible citizens, sensitive to cultural differences and knowledgeable about the international context.
Given that participants in mobility programs differ from their peers in terms of ability, field of study, or socioeconomic background, and it cannot be stated with certainty that the correlations observed to date are in fact causal, further encouragement is needed. research linked to international mobility in order to cover existing knowledge gaps.
Author Bio: Rosa M. Rodriguez-Izquierdo is Full Professor Department of Education and Social Psychology at Pablo de Olavide University