Spain’s internationalisation efforts must move beyond Erasmus

The success in attracting Erasmus+ students must be translated into more far-reaching and economically transformative initiatives, says Conrado Briceño 

January 1, 2019
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Year after year, Spain proves itself to be one of the bastions of the Erasmus+ programme.

It receives the most students, and Madrid, Barcelona or Seville are among the primary destinations for young people all over the continent, beating Rome, Paris and London, according to European Commission data.

The country is also third in the number of young people it sends abroad – and one of the most committed to the Erasmus+ programme in terms of the number of organisations and projects in which it is involved.

At the same time, Spain is a clear example of the main challenge facing European higher education: attracting students from outside the European Union.

In other words, after ensuring that the Erasmus+ programme has become consolidated as one of the EU’s most successful public policies, we will be able to broaden our horizons and set ourselves more ambitious goals.

Universities must join forces to attract foreign talent – students, professors and volunteers – who will choose our country for their long-term academic and professional development.

Ensuring that increasing numbers of students stay for longer than an academic year and study complete programmes at our universities is a fundamental part of raising the international profile of our education system.

This goal also entails quality requirements for the students that are entering our universities. We must continue in this direction, although, at present, Spain welcomes almost 60,000 international students every year.

Globalisation, the expansion of new technologies and the socioeconomic impetus of emerging economies are changing the higher education ecosystem throughout the world. It is forecast that in the next 20 years, demand for higher education will grow exponentially, from 99 million students at present to up to 414 million by 2030, with China, Brazil and India leading that growth.

In an environment of increasing competition to attract students, all European universities must act strategically to make the most of Europe’s reputation for top-quality higher education.

In Spanish higher education, it is vital to promote the international mobility of students and teachers, to facilitate the implementation of joint study programmes and to support research and development and knowledge transfer. We must also establish partnerships with other universities, public institutions, companies and civil society at a global level. The aim of this is to achieve longer stays in host countries and contribute to keeping attracted international talent in these countries.

Erasmus+ is among the most successful European programmes and has contributed to increased educational mobility by offering young Europeans the possibility to broaden their horizons on a personal and professional level. It has been instrumental in the creation of a shared European identity. Its first edition in 1987 benefited just 3,200 students, but now 300,000 young people participate, in an ever-growing trend.

European higher education institutions are taking a further step through the Network of European Universities – an initiative developed jointly by European universities, student organisations, member states and the European Commission, based on the commission’s wish to improve the competitiveness of European universities and to create an excellent pan-European higher education system.

This initiative is one of the EU’s leading measures to build a European Education Area. This pilot project will serve as a basis to build a network of approximately 20 European universities to be in place by 2025, which will allow students to obtain a qualification by combining studies in several EU countries and contribute to the international competitiveness of European universities. Students will be able to make up their own programmes and experience mobility at every level of study.

In October 2018, the European Commission launched its first pilot project and plans to set another in motion in 2021.

If the results of both pilot projects are satisfactory – and if the European Council and Parliament approve the 2021-27 EU budget – the European Commission plans to promote a “very ambitious focus for European universities as of 2021”.

But students must always remain at the centre of our concerns – and on this basis, universities must offer them training that guarantees their personal and professional development, providing them with the tools to facilitate their entry to the job market.

The challenges faced by Spanish universities are intertwined with those faced by all European universities, which relate to the need to adapt higher education for the 21st century. Our internationalisation must benefit students in each and every European country.

Conrado Briceño is president of Universidad Europea, a private university in Madrid, Valencia and the Canary Islands – and CEO of Laureate International Universities in Spain.


Print headline: Spain must add more integration atop its success in Erasmus+

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