University students, trainees, volunteers. Young people who decide to spend a few months of their life in another country. They might meet a girlfriend or boyfriend during this experience. It is the Erasmus army, as Sofia Corradi, “mother” of the Erasmus programme, called them.
Established in 1987, offering university students the opportunity to study in a foreign country and to have the exams that they completed abroad recognised on their return.
The programme, called Erasmus+ since 2014, has offered a wide range of opportunities to Europe’s young people: The chance to study, train, volunteer or gain professional experience abroad.
According to European Commission statistics, nine million people from different social classes have already taken part in the program. Two million people participated in the period from 2014 to 2015 alone.
Women led the ranking during the first two years of the new program making up 58% of subscriptions. People with special needs and with “fewer opportunities” made up almost 10% of enrollments.
The most popular destinations are Spain (12%), Germany (11%) and Great Britain (10%). French, German and Spanish students are most likely to take part in the program.
Student’s satisfaction levels were extremely positive: – 94% said they had improved their basic skills – 96% said they had improved their language skills – 80% feel more prepared to enter the workplace
This data is interesting when compared with employment statistics. According to the European Commission, students that have lived abroad were twice as likely to find a job one year after graduation compared to their peers. One in three students who did an internship abroad was offered a position by their host company.
How much does the Erasmus program does cost?
The current Erasmus+ programme, set to run from 2014 to 2020, has a budget of €14.7 billion and will provide opportunities for over four million people hoping to experience life abroad.
Of Erasmus students that lived in a foreign country, 83% of students said that their sense of European citizenship increased after their experience. This sense of European citizenship could increase with new generations thanks to the one million babies born to Erasmus parents.
An interview with Sofia Corradi, “mother” of Erasmus
Mrs Corradi, the Erasmus program is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
You are considered the “mother” of the program. How did you come up with the idea for Erasmus?
It happened in a curious way, from a moment of anger that I experienced. I won a Fulbright scholarship and went to the Columbia University for one year. When I came back, I asked my University to recognise the exams that I had sat. I had also attained a master’s degree in comparative law. But no. They took it really badly and they even insulted me.
It was like I was trying to graduate with fake documents or with papers from some university on a Bahamas island, or from another tax haven. This incident sparked personal campaign for peace in me. When you are young, it is normal to say: “I don’t like the world as it is. So I’m going to change it”.
How the academic world react at the idea of your program?
Some were enthusiastic and some were hostile. I’ll tell you an anecdote: I fought for 18 years, from 1969 to 1987, to create the highly-praised Erasmus program but at the beginning, I didn’t know that I would have to fight for 18 years, otherwise, I wouldn’t have started.
I always thought that a meeting with bodies that recognise foreign qualifications was easy to get but they were so hostile. At one point, I came to an agreement with the Deans: when a student sent the necessary documents to recognise their qualification they should write on the envelope “confidential for the Dean”.
Was this hostility only in Italy?
No, it was everywhere. I faced hostile bureaucracy everywhere. Finally, yes, it is resigned because bureaucrats now have children and grandchildren. So when they see a little boy from the countryside leave his town and come back a citizen of the world, everything changes.
The official European Union statistics say that once Erasmus students have completed their university studies, they find work in half the time required by their non-Erasmus peers. Not because they know foreign languages better or their teachers were better, but because they developed transversal skills. As a result, they are more appreciated by men, by women and by employers.
30 years on, what do you take most satisfaction from?
Often Erasmians students that are now pregnant, with a visible baby bump, come to me to shake my hand or hug me. They say a sentence that makes every old person happy: “If it’s a girl I will call her Sofia”.
Who are the Erasmus alumni?
Federica Mogherini – High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission
Sandro Gozi – Member of the Parliament of Italy
Samantha Cristoforetti – astronaut
Jyrki Tapani Katainen – European Commission Vice-President
Pablo Iglesias Turrión – Spanish politician
Esther Berrozpe Galindo – President of Whirlpool EMEA
Heikki Aittokoski – Journalist at Finnish national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat
Alexandra Pascalidou – Journalist, columnist, television hostess, and author
Diogo Piçarra – Portuguese singer
Roberta Metsola – Maltese MEP
Helle Thorning-Schmidt – Former Danish prime minister
Tom Bird – Executive Producer, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London
Cecilia Malmström – Member of the European Commission from Sweden
Jan Philipp Albrecht – MEP for Germany
Salvador Sobral – Singer (Eurovision song contest winner)
Carlos Moedas – EU Commissioner
Produced by Maria Sara Farci