Enormous determination to engage in European exchange

Dr. Stephan Geifes, Director of the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation at the DAAD

The future of Erasmus: Dr. Stephan Geifes, Director of the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation at the DAAD, on the further development of the European programme.

Dr. Geifes, the Corona pandemic has resulted in massive restrictions on academic mobility. What impact has the crisis had on Erasmus exchange so far?

Countless students have decided to continue their studies digitally in their respective host countries despite university closures, contact bans and many other restrictions. We observe that young people have an enormous determination to engage in European exchange. This determination also manifests itself in the large number of enquiries we have received during the corona crisis about the future of physical mobility as part of the Erasmus programme.

How has the DAAD responded to this crisis as Germany’s National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation?

Like the other European national agencies and the European Commission we have responded swiftly and recognised the corona crisis as force majeure. This also means that universities can receive the proven costs of Erasmus scholarship-holders up to the full scholarship amount despite the fact that course content was cancelled. We are thereby ensuring that semesters abroad can be completed online and that Erasmus-funded interns can complete their internships working from home. The European Commission’s flexibility is also clearly demonstrated by the funding of Erasmus internships for graduates: in light of the exceptional corona situation, they can now be completed up to 18 months after graduation; normally, the deadline is 12 months.

Erasmus is to become more inclusive, more digital and more ecological

What impact will the corona crisis have on the future of the Erasmus programme?

Although the schedule of decisions about the new Erasmus programme generation for the years from 2021 to 2027 has taken a knock, no changes have been made with regard to its goals. Erasmus is to become more inclusive, more digital and more ecological. The DAAD supports these three goals unequivocally. According to the present state of planning, the new Erasmus programme generation will continue to strengthen project funding and European universities as well as the work of the first two pilot calls for proposals for new higher education alliances. Based on this powerful start, new forms of higher education cooperation will emerge all over Europe.

What will the changes in the Erasmus programme mean for students?

The programme aims to focus on inclusion even more strongly than before: we would like to draw attention to academic exchange among far more young people who have previously never thought about a period of study abroad. We therefore want, for example, to create incentives for mobility among those who are the first members of their families to go to university or who are especially dependent on part-time employment. At the same time we are firmly aware of the challenge that academic mobility faces in its need to develop while addressing its ecological footprint. Digitalisation opens up valuable opportunities here ranging from learning and vocational education to administration. Erasmus projects, such as strategic partnerships or capacitybuilding projects, offer excellent ways of trying out new approaches and testing innovations in studying and teaching. Ultimately, this will also deliver considerable benefits for students and teachers. Although there is no substitute for experiencing Europe through physical mobility, digital formats often offer valuable alternatives. This has been made clear by the corona crisis, which has also enabled us to learn lessons for the future.

Interview: Johannes Göbel