What Is Erasmus? A Look At A European Union Student Exchange Program

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What is Erasmus? A Look At A European Union Student Exchange Program

June 13, 2017

Allan Stevo

Erasmus is a popular European Union exchange program among university students in Slovakia and throughout the EU. Prior to 1989, when their parents were college students, traveling abroad from Slovakia was very difficult, since the communist government of Czechoslovakia limited the movement of its people. Today another extreme has been reached – studying abroad has become very easy and is fully financed by the government often along with a generous food and housing allowance and travel stipends.

The Erasmus Programme was established by the European Union in 1987 and is targeted at undergraduate university students from across the European Union, though it appears that there are situations where those not yet in school or those pursuing postgraduate work can also participate in the program. The organization that oversees the program and other similar programs is called Erasmus+. The programs are named for the philosopher Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), who was in turn named for St. Erasmus of Formia (or St. Elmo), the patron saint of sailors, and abdominal disorders.

Erasmus is intended to enrich students’ academic and personal lives, support intercultural experiences and promote solidarity, understanding and tolerance between citizens of the countries involved.

The higher education program is aimed at students who want to spend one or two semesters studying abroad. Erasmus is overseen by the European Commission, with a current annual budget of €489 million, or about $590 million.

Residents of all EU member countries and schools within those countries can fully participate in the Erasmus activities. They are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Students and schools in some non-EU member countries can also fully participate. They are: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Macedonia, and Turkey.

Additionally, there are students and schools in many other countries around the world that can participate in Erasmus programs to a limited extent.

In order to participate, the student’s home school must have bilateral agreements with partner universities abroad. The student can then select from the list of the partner schools and begin the process of where they will be assigned to study.

Switzerland has been suspended as a participant in Erasmus as of 2015, following the popular vote to limit the immigration of EU citizens into Switzerland. As a punishment, Swiss students will no longer be able to apply for Erasmus and students from outside of Switzerland will not be able to spend time at a Swiss university under that program. Swiss students and institutions may still participate under other Erasmus+ exchange programs.

Erasmus guarantees that all academic achievements and grades will be recognized while abroad, as long as students follow the terms of the bilateral agreements between the institutions. Usually the agreements state that students need to do the basics expected of a student: attend classes, hand in assignments, and pass exams. Their grades are then recognized by their home university although in some cases the home university might ask the student to pass additional exams after coming back, especially in cases when a class meets for more than just one semester and therefore requires a certain continuity. When a class at their home university is scheduled for two semesters and the student spends their first semester abroad, the student may be able to simply take an additional exam based on the coursework of the first semester in order to continue with his classmates in the second semester.

The program is free to the student and students may receive a grant that helps them cover any additional expense while studying abroad. Every country and every school has a different budget for Erasmus. The grant support also differs according to the chosen country. A grant for each month spent in the Czech Republic might be €300 and in Finland €500/month. The grants are intended to cover all expenses including housing, food, and transportation. Any additional expenses have to be covered by the student.
The grant amount may vary based on differences in living costs between the home country and the destination country, the number of students applying for a grant, the distance between countries, and the availability of other grants.

Irrespective of whether the students receive an “Erasmus+ Grant” or are “Erasmus+-zero-grant students,” they will sign a grant agreement specifying the duration of their mobility, the amount of the grant and other rights and obligations.

In some situations, the sending institutions will make the grant payments, in other situations, the sending or receiving institutions work out how grant payments will be made.

Erasmus+ students are exempted from fees for tuition, registration, examinations, and charges for access to laboratories or libraries at the receiving institution. Small fees for insurance or student union membership may still apply. Students may be eligible for additional grants from their institution, government or other sources.

Each school has only a limited number of free spots for Erasmus students each year. Students are selected for the program according to their study results and language tests. Students must finish at least two semesters at their home university before they can apply for Erasmus.

The number of students accepted differs from each country and university. The bigger a university, the more spots there are for Erasmus students. Erasmus numbers might range from 20 – 100 students/semester.

Each university has a deadline for applying, which is usually once a year.

Students are usually asked to pick at least two or three schools abroad for Erasmus, but the official program literature recommends choosing 10 to start. After their home university selects them for the program, they send out their applications to the chosen schools abroad. The schools abroad might reject the student if they don’t have enough slots available, but the student usually gets to go to at least one of the chosen universities on their list. After their home university selects the student for the program, the student is assured placement somewhere in the program, even if it may not be in a location that is the student’s first, second, or third choice.

Students can apply for Erasmus after finishing at least two semesters at their home university and after they are selected for the program based on their academic results and the results of a language test. Applying students can choose whether they want to study abroad during the winter semester or summer semester (or both). They can only spend a maximum of two semesters abroad over the course of their studies. Some universities offer programs for one semester only, some for the whole academic year.

Most areas of study are eligible for the program. In some cases, students might attend similar classes to what they study back at home, but not exactly the same. For example, when a student of film editing applies for a university that does not have a specific department for film editing they are asked to attend the program closest to their field of study like media or film studies.

Once again, students are asked to attend classes, do homework, and pass exams. In case they don’t abide by the terms of their Erasmus exchange, they might be expelled from the program or their home university might not accept their grades after they return from the exchange.

Most of the classes involved in Erasmus are taught in English. In some situations this option is not available. In that case, the exchange students might be asked to study in a different language such as French, Spanish, or Slovenian.

Students who don’t finish their exams and obligations at their home university before leaving for a semester abroad can’t participate in the exchange.

Some universities provide housing for exchange students in dormitories or may help students find housing. In other situations, students are asked to look for their own housing.

Every country usually has a student network of organizations dedicated to Erasmus exchange students. These organizations help the students with anything they might need after arriving for the program. Each student usually receives a tutor from the exchange school, who helps them with paperwork, finding housing, and getting around. Some of the organizations in exchange countries organize events for the students such as trips, parties, or conferences. Participating in these events is not obligatory for the exchange student.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: issuu.com

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