25 years of Erasmus
As Erasmus – the EU’s higher education study and work placement programme – celebrates 25 years of successful exchanges across Europe, business leaders say that for the UK to remain competitive its students must take greater advantage of the international opportunities on offer to them.
2010-11 saw the most UK students participate in the Erasmus programme - which is managed by the British Council in the United Kingdom - since its launch in 1987. However, the take-up rate in the UK still lags behind France and Germany.
Yet, of the more than 200,000 British students who have taken part in study and work placements in Europe as part of the Erasmus scheme, few would dispute that it has changed their lives and opened doors to new opportunities.
Alison Pearce, from the north of England, was one of the first to go on the Erasmus exchange 25 years ago. She has no doubts about its benefits, "the Erasmus programme fundamentally changed me and my life - my outlook, prospects and future. I became an international businesswoman, living and working abroad. Now I am passionate about encouraging my students to do the same."
And, Ryan Gawn from Scotland has a similar story to tell, "the Erasmus experience was invaluable. It ....was one of the most influential periods of my life, giving me a deep appreciation of foreign affairs, cultures and peoples. As my first experience of living abroad, it gave me the confidence and understanding in engaging with other people and making friends and creating a life in a new city from scratch. I have continued to do this, living and studying abroad in the US, Chile, Argentina, Afghanistan and now Pakistan."
But a British Council commissioned poll showed that many UK students don’t recognise these benefits. In fact, less than half of the UK students surveyed thought that an international outlook would improve their work prospects. However, three out of four business leaders – in another British Council report – said they feared that the UK would be left behind by emerging countries unless the young people here learn to think more globally.
In recruiting new employees, 80% of employers said that knowledge and awareness of the wider world was more important than degree subject and classification.
Skills that Erasmus offers, according to Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, "Erasmus exchanges enable students to improve their knowledge of foreign languages and to develop skills such as adaptability which improve their job prospects."
More than two and a half million students from Europe have taken part in the programme since its launch in 1987; the British Council manages the programme in the UK on behalf of the European Commission.