In the early hours of the 24th June, as the votes from the final constituencies across the United Kingdom were tallied, the reality dawned that a majority of the electorate had voiced their desire to formally withdraw from the European Union. Throughout the referendum campaign, university leaders in the UK had strongly advocated the need to remain within the EU. A ‘Leave’ vote, they claimed, would have dire consequences on their third-level education system as a result of the loss of access to the educational opportunities afforded by the EU. Here, we examine the opportunities in question, outlining what membership to the EU means to the students of Ireland and all of those in Europe.
The free movement of people is one of the basic rights of all EU citizens. This right facilitates the Erasmus programme, an initiative which offers 3rd level students the opportunity to study in any member state of their choice. The programme, an acronym of the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, is inspired by the Dutch philosopher of the same name, who travelled extensively throughout Europe in an effort to broaden his horizons and experience new cultures.
Erasmus is the single largest educational exchange programme in the world, with over 3 million students taking part since its launch in 1987. Latest figures show that 7.5% of all EU students currently study in a member state other than their own. The launch of Erasmus Mundus, a sister-initiative which affords some opportunities to students from non-EU countries, as well as Erasmus+ which expanded the programme’s scope into the realm of sport, has further contributed to the growth in the programme’s popularity.
With over 4,000 universities participating in the Erasmus programme, students from all academic backgrounds and courses, not just language-based ones as is the common misconception, are invited to partake in the programme. Studying abroad gives young people a great opportunity to experience other languages and different European cultures, helping to cultivate a shared European identity. Many students cite their Erasmus year as the most enjoyable part of their time in university and the numerous networks and friendships often last well beyond graduation. As well as offering endless opportunities for personal development, enrichment of academic knowledge and professional competence, a period abroad is also highly valued by many prospective employers.
Looking to the future, the educational framework of the European Union stands to evolve further over the coming years, largely in response to the EU’s 2020 Initiative, which outlines the EU’s agenda for growth and innovation strategies until the end of this decade. Education holds a central place in these strategies and a number of goals have been established for each member state to achieve These include reducing the number of early school leavers to less than 10%, and increasing the share of the EU’s population aged 30-34 with a university degree to 40%, as well as improving the competency of primary school pupils in maths and science.
Last week our own Central Applications Office, the CAO as it is known, offered 3rd level places to over 75,000 leaving certificate students. For any of them or anyone else interested in looking at taking part in the Erasmus programme, colleges around Ireland can assist both students from abroad as well as their own students who wish to engage in the Erasmus programme.
If you are looking to take advantage of an exchange programme such as Erasmus, remember to inform your colleges of your wishes to study abroad as places and funding are limited. Applications need to be made well in advance. The same goes for accommodation. The Erasmus programme does not include accommodation, so it is a good idea to begin your search for housing as soon as your application process has been finalised.
Best of luck with your studies!
This blog post is an edited version of our Executive Director Noelle O Connell’s monthly column in the Cork Evening Echo.