European Exchange Programs
The old continent at the time of student mobility.
Socrates, Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci ... The European Union
has stamped its international university mobility programs with
the names of some of the most important European humanists and
philosophers. The number of programs will be increasing just like
the amount of participating students. So how does one profit from
these opportunities that are being offered?
Since its creation, the European Union has been searching for
policies visible to the public that permits it to get out of the
ivory tower of Brussels. The arrival of the Euro, the single European
currency, on January 1st 2002, will be a major step in this direction.
To begin with, one of the more visible and popular actions is
without doubt the setting up of university exchange programs.
In fact since 1987 millions of European students have had the
possibility of benefiting from the Erasmus program, to
go and study in another European country. These students were
in some way the ambassadors of a Europe in development: they have
enabled and facilitated the exchange of knowledge, they have created
friendly and long-lasting connections with students from other
countries, they have developed a European unity and have allowed
this to be reinforced. Since 1987 750,000 students from outside
of Europe have also left their countries to participate in the
Erasmus exchange programs... a true mass movement!
According to history Erasmus came first - then it was followed
by Socrates and today Socrates II. The number of
exchange programs has been enriched with the addition of Consortia,
Lingua and Tempus. The two latter programs have opened
the European space even more because Tempus is a program that
involves Europe and the nations that have been created since the
break up of the Soviet Union.
How to find oneself in the administrative labyrinth:
These programs are attractive but they are not always brilliant
in their clarity and a number of European higher education establishments
have also had problems supplying information about them. There
is no need to worry but a little clarification is required to
untangle of threads of the administration in Bruxelles.
Socrates is the name chosen by the EU for this general
education program. Under this name, three large programs coexist
for the public.
Erasmus is the first education program offered by the
EU. The history of its origin does not need to be mentioned and
could make things complicated. This program brings higher education
to a geographic zone compromising the 15 EU countries, the European
Economic Area (EEA) and associated countries of Eastern and Central
Europe (the PECO) as well as Cyprus and Malta. It appears more
judicious to concentrate on what opportunities exist today and
how to best use them in the interest of the students desiring
to study abroad. However it must be noted that Erasmus includes
much more than just student exchange programs: for example it
encourages the mobility of teachers thus permitting the sharing
of knowledge and teaching techniques across Europe. It encourages
short intense stays from a few days to up to three months and
it helps put in place a common education in a number of universities
that deliver "Socrates modules". It is within the Erasmus
program that the "credit" system ECTS was established
(refer to the World Student article "Equivalencies"
for more information on ECTS). In short, through the Erasmus program
the EU has the ambition to be able to weave a true network among
universities, teachers and students across Europe.
The Leonardo da Vinci program is also part of the Socrates
program. It deals with professional education and the mobility
of persons within the framework of professional internships in
companies abroad. The EU countries, the EEA and some countries
of Eastern Europe are involved in this program. The internships
have a duration of between 3 weeks to 9 months and involve students
in professional, technical and scientific areas, young graduates
and those unemployed. For the latter group, the program does not
work through an academic establishment but through employment
centers or European information centers.
The Lingua program is concerned with students studying
modern languages and who intend to teach. In fact it includes
many more activities and its objective is to promote and encourage
the learning and the diffusion of the official modern languages
of the EU, associated countries and countries of the EEA. This
program attaches particular importance to the least known and
least taught languages. Lingua offers its support for teaching
internships, the placement of new teaching tools, school trips,
etc ... Notably the language students can go abroad as an assistant
for a period of 3 months to one academic year in the country of
the language they have studied. The program consists of 12 hours
of classes under the authority of the local professor.
Parallel to the Socrates program is the Tempus program
which started in 1993 after the fall of the iron curtain in 1990.
The European Union started weaving ties with the countries of
Eastern Europe. As with the Erasmus program, it is not necessary
to mention the history behind it, but it must be noted that Tempus
is now on its third try and today involves the EU, all the nations
created after the fall of the Soviet Empire, Mongolia and the
new Balkan nations.
Tempus has enabled relationships between universities to occur.
This is meant to enable the comparison and the convergence of
higher education systems of the participating countries, thanks
to a network of international relations offices.
The most important part for students is the setting up of university
exchange programs within all the countries involved in the Tempus
program. Today there are 43 in total, from the Atlantic Ocean
to the Pacific.
The European Union is not the only one that has turned to the
East. The East is geographically open towards the Atlantic and
the Americas where it maintains cooperation and exchanges with
Canada and the United States. The cooperation program between
the EU-USA/Canada is called the Consortia. This program
pursues objectives similar to the Erasmus and Tempus programs:
to promote a transatlantic mobility of students, to encourage
the creation of similar university programs, and to assure the
recognition of teaching courses pursued abroad, etc... Students
participating in this program benefit from exactly the same conditions
as Erasmus students.
The big difference between the Erasmus and Tempus programs and
the Consortia program lies with their respective importance: the
budget allocated to the programs concerning USA and Canada only
represent 1% of the Erasmus budget... Between 2000 and 2003, 800
students will be involved in these programs.
Finally, there are other programs that exist with other partners
and function under the same methods as the Erasmus, Tempus and
Consortia programs: for example the Alfa program which
involves South America, and to a lesser degree there is a program
in China as well as the UMAP program in Asia.
How can one benefit from these programs?
One can see that there is not a lack of programs - here only
the most important are mentioned!
In concrete terms, for the Erasmus and Tempus programs, which
are by far the most popular, the establishments of higher education
are encouraged to establish partnerships with other establishments
abroad within the framework of each program. At present a student
wishing to carry out one year or 6 months of studies at a university
abroad will not have a large choice of establishments. Indeed
there a number of countries who are not be represented at all:
for example, do not think that it is possible for all students
participating in the Tempus program to study for one year in Azerbaijan
paid by the EU.
The first stage for a prospective student is to contact the international
relations office in their establishment and get the necessary
information regarding the opportunities that are proposed within
the framework of the different European programs. Once the student
has chosen a destination, the international relations office will
be in charge of following the general rules to contact the partner
establishment. This process must be carried out before a deadline
that varies according to the establishments. As a general guideline
it is worth completing this part of the procedure by January
or February of the year before. Students who intend to participate
in a program are selected according to their application files
by the Erasmus council of their university. Only the best applicants
are accepted because the number of places at each university is
limited. Once the first steps have been completed, the office
must then supply the student with an application form for the
request of a grant that corresponds to the program that they are
following. Do not forget to ask at the office if it is possible
to be awarded additional grants from other organizations
which have contacts with the university: studying abroad is good,
but with money it is even better! (It is possible to accumulate
EU grants and other organizations).
The student will then need to choose beforehand what classes
they wish to take at the university abroad. This procedure is
under the control of the advisor in their department. In fact,
once the student has chosen the classes and modules which they
wish to take, it is important to make sure that the work load
corresponds well with the amount of work that they would have
to do in their own country. If the two establishments have put
in place the ECTS system (European Credit Transfer System) the
equivalencies will be easier to define. This operation
is fundamental: if the classes are badly chosen one risks not
being able to receive the equivalencies at ones home university.
The next step: the trip and the arrival at the university
abroad. The majority of establishments offer students who
are participating in a European program one week of integration.
This is the occasion to contact the Erasmus advisor at the new
university simply to identify oneself and for politeness (they
were the ones that followed through with the process for you to
arrive to the university!). They will supply information regarding
the classes, the schedules and often introduce the professors.
The students participating in these programs normally take their
exams under the same conditions as their classmates. However
it is possible (even if it is not official) to have more flexible
regulations, for example handing in homework that has been written
at home instead of taking the exam.
On return to the home university, and after a study period generally
unforgettable and full of discovery, one must return to earth
and finish the administrative process. This means it is required
to go to the advisor of ones department with the grades
received at the university abroad. These must be given to you
by the university abroad before your return. At your home university
the grades will be examined by the board of equivalencies who
will then attribute the corresponding grades and classes of the
Why follow in the framework of European programs?
Compare a student who travels to a foreign country alone to study
with a student who is participating in a European exchange program,
the latter has a number of guarantees as follows:
- Students in the Erasmus, Tempus, Consortia programs ... have
the assurance of validating their classes and modules that they
took at the university abroad on their return to their home
university. In this way, their period of study counts entirely
towards their degree program.
- In addition they profit from the support of Erasmus advisors
in their home university and also in the country that they will
be going to. Equally they are much easier to be identified by
their professors. They often have priority when getting on campus
accommodation. In short, they are not foreigners like others.
- They benefit from a grant awarded by the EU. In all cases
these grants are relatively modest and are not supposed to meet
the needs of the student. In fact the grants cover the travel
expenses and the difference in the cost of living between their
country and the country they will be going to (students who
go to a Scandinavian country will receive a grant that is higher
than other countries). The Erasmus grant has a value that varies
between 150 - 200 Euros per month.
- They register for the university abroad at their home university.
Yet this can be either an advantage or an inconvenience at the
financial level: it is better to go to a country where the application
fees are higher than at ones university. In all cases it is
an administrative advantage: a student that is officially registered
at the home university is able to justify their degree course
at the same university and thus do not have to re-apply.
To know better the international organizations and exchange
agreements between countries:
- EU: European Union, 15 member-states: Germany, Austria,
France, Italy, Great Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands,
Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Sweden; Finland, Greece and Denmark.
- Candidate countries for entrance into the European Union:
Cyprus, Malta, ten countries from Central and Eastern Europe
PECO (Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland,
Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
- EEA: European Economic Area 18 member-states: all the
EU countries and Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway.
- EFTA: European Free Trade Association, 4 members,
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
NAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement, 3 members:
Canada, USA and Mexico.