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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 home university.

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.

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