What ‘pillar’ of the EU does not challenge state sovereignty, does not raise conflicting currency issues and does not spark fierce debates regarding public regulations, whilst actively working towards integration? A tough question? This article examines what the European Union has done for education across the continent and why we should not forget about it, particularly at a time of hardship.
With talks about unemployment, financial and political crisis prevailing in contemporary Europe, one might get the impression that something is left behind. Since 1987 the EU has been carrying out a process of modernization of education. In a quest to overcome regional and national barriers and integrating the young, it has brought education to a different level: the international one. The Erasmus program is often rightly seen as a chance to improve language and interpersonal skills whilst understanding other cultures by entering new academic networks. In addition, business also finds its role with training offered to students within the Erasmus framework, further preparing them for entering the EU labour market. Still, there is even more behind this EU initiative to modernize education: it entails institutional reform, the development of new interdisciplinary methods of teaching and learning, and diversity-friendly approaches. With considerable levels of cross-country cooperation educational, reform is what brings institutions, staff, business and students together for learning, training, sharing knowledge and improving educational quality. And indeed, what better way to cross borders than the internationalization of education?
The New Era-smus education – the structural challenge
Creating an international environment is not just about bringing together people from twenty or more different countries to work, talk and study in the same room: a real challenge lies behind it. To offer Erasmus programs, and to take part in an Erasmus, means to change and this change affects students and institutions across the whole continent. Colleges and departments adapt their courses and teaching so they are suitable for an international classroom not only in terms of language but also in content. Indeed, to integrate a diverse classroom, with both international and home students, academics themselves have to move away from traditional approaches and teaching to methods that go beyond the differences between the individuals present in the classroom. Thus, this incentive to modernize education serves as the main driver for change: change is not compulsory by law but it rather becomes desirable in an evolving European dynamic. Contemporary European universities take enormous pride in the levels of diversity of both their students and staff, such diversity is seen as a hallmark of progressive education.
Welcome to Europe – your home
It is clear that Erasmus is not “just” a student exchange program, it is much more than that. With the opening of the iron curtain not only states and economies entered a process of regional integration, but so did students. Nowadays, in the post-1989 context, young Europeans have an opportunity that was unthinkable for many of their parents. The long persistent East-West divide in Europe has been fundamentally undermined by the opportunity for students to put on the Erasmus goggles and see the world from a different perspective and experience life on either side of the once longest standing political and geographic division Europe has seen over the centuries. It is not only culture that travels with people, but also the experience of an insight into a multicultural and multi-linguistic environment where everyone is brought together, and bound by the quest for a different type of knowledge: the knowledge of others. Intercultural integration does not recognize national borders or relative socio-economic status, hence positioning students within a context of ‘oneness’, with North-South and East-West signifying origin and location rather than main features of identity. Thus, educational reform depicts the underlying principle and scope of integration.
Erasmus once, Erasmus forever
The EU initiative for educational reform is a bench mark of the Union, along with its economic and political strives. The rationale behind it has surely come to represent the triumph of cultural exchange, the possibility to travel, learn and ultimately, bring new perspectives home and incorporate them into a future career. Nevertheless, due to the international character of institutional cooperation, traineeships and internships in business, student exchange and improvement of language skills have the aim to transcend traditional historical divides and allow for a gaze beyond them into a Europe for all and a Europe by all. With institutions of higher education and students themselves being the driving mechanisms of the reform, the Erasmus generations are those aware of the diversity of the Union, but also of its uniformity. In such context, the long-term implications of the Erasmus initiative seem to have a much bigger importance for the strengthening, and further amalgamation, of the Union than its immediate application.
It is undeniable that Europe is troubled by a currency crisis, disintegrating political developments, declining popular trust and voter apathy but behind the political economy of contemporary European debates, intellectual exchange is a leading achievement and has been running for 26 years. In a situation of political, financial or identity crisis, cultural exchange, institutional cooperation and young people’s mobility are definitely sources of hope because they facilitate the birth of new ideas; the birth of good ideas.
Image Source : European Commission - Education and Training, Erasmus logo
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- Dossier May 2013 : Why can we still be (pro) European today, May 9th 2013