Those European students that are studying for a degree or a diploma and are thinking about studying in Portugal will be pleased to know that Portugal is very active in the ERASMUS student exchange program, both as a host and a send country.
The Erasmus Programme or Project is the operational framework for the European Commission’s initiatives in higher education. It is a European Union student exchange programme, established in 1987. The programme is named after the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was known to oppose dogmatism and who lived and worked throughout Europe in order to expand his knowledge and gain new insights. He left his fortune to the University of Basel, in Switzerland. However, ERASMUS is also a “backronym”, meaning European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.
Before its adoption in 1987, the European Commission had already been supporting pilot student exchanges since 1981. The European Commission proposed it in 1986, but the opposition of a few member states like France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which already had substantial exchange programmes of their own in place, delayed its adoption until shortly before the beginning of the academic year of 1987/1988 – despite the rest of the member states being broadly in favour. Despite the late start, 3244 students were still able to participate in the first year of Erasmus. By comparison, over 150 thousand students (almost 1% of the European student population) took part in 2006. But many don’t know that Erasmus is also for teachers. In fact, the proportion is actually higher among university teachers, with a mobility of 1,9% of the teacher population in Europe, which equals 20877 people. In the past 20 years, over 2 million students (60% being female) have benefited from Erasmus grants and the European Commission wants more. Currently, there are over 4000 higher institutions across 33 countries taking part in Erasmus.
Parallel to Erasmus, the Erasmus Mundus Programme aims to globalise European education. In contrast to Erasmus, which is open to Europeans, Erasmus Mundus is open to non-Europeans, with Europeans being exceptional cases.
Many tutors encourage their students to take part in Erasmus, especially those studying subjects like Politics or International Relations. The Programme fosters learning and understanding of the host country, as well as a sense of community among students from different countries. In order to reduce expenses and increase mobility, many students use the European Commission-supported accommodation network, CasaSwap, Erasmate or Student Mundial, free websites where students and young people can rent, sublet, offer and swap accommodation – on a national and international basis –, and where they can share knowledge and exchange tips and hints with each other.
Students who join Erasmus study or do an internship lasting from 3 months to an academic year in another European country. The Erasmus Programme guarantees that the period spent abroad is recognised by their university when they come back, as long as they conform to terms previously agreed. A main part of the Programme is that students do not pay extra tuition fees to the university that they visit, and can also apply for an Erasmus grant to help cover the additional expense of living abroad. Students with disabilities can apply for additional grant to cover extraordinary expenses as a part of EU work to promote opportunities for the disabled. Lectures to ERASMUS students may be given in the native language of the university or in English.
The Erasmus experience is considered both a time for learning as well as a chance to socialize. It is well-regarded and to have the word “Erasmus” in a CV is viewed as positive, and signifies an entire experience. Some academics even speculate that former Erasmus students, the “Erasmus generation”, will go on to become great European leaders and prove a powerful force in creating a pan-European identity.