From where I sit - Erasmus opens Spanish vistas

March 19, 2009

There was a time when Erasmus Mundus was just a dream for the many Spanish students who whiled away their Sunday afternoons imagining what it would be like to study abroad.

We must not forget that the political situation was very different in Spain 40 years ago, when Franco was still in power, or that it is only relatively recently that "Europe", as an integrated continent, has become a reality.

In some respects, Spanish society is still adjusting its traditional way of thinking; for example, many young Spaniards still live with their parents while they are students.

Thinking back to my own university experience ten years ago, how close a university was to home took precedence over its reputation or quality.

Today, with the advent of the Bologna Process, Spain has opened its borders to students. Last year, ,000 came to study and 23,000 of our own students travelled abroad.

Erasmus students are most commonly found on technical degree courses (degrees at Spain's 'technical' universities), followed by business studies, linguistics and philosophy, and they stay an average of about eight months.

The Erasmus Programme is an initiative that underpins the idea of European citizenship, so it is right that, on 19 November 2007, the Spanish Government celebrated its 20th anniversary at the meeting of the Conference of Spanish Rectors at Oviedo University.

All the Erasmus students who were there agreed that their life had been greatly enriched by the experience of studying abroad.

This year is the 22nd anniversary of Erasmus, which means that it is now of similar age to many of the young men and women who take advantage of the scheme.

In their lifetime, the first cohort of 3,200 students who participated in the programme back in 1987-88 has grown into almost 160,000 during 2006-07.

We must add to these figures those participating in the teaching staff exchange, which almost 3,000 Spanish academics take part in. And we must not forget that more than 50 Spanish universities are also involved in another programme to boost the mobility of non-academic staff.

However, there is still more to be done.

Erasmus makes sense only if it can reach all our students. It used to be an "elite" programme because the living expenses it offered were not always enough for students who did not have additional resources to draw on.

Today, optimising equality of opportunity for those from disadvantaged backgrounds is rightly one of the programme's main aims.

Angel Gabilondo, president of the Conference of Spanish Rectors, is also trying to engender a debate about plans to revise the Spanish university calendar.

The proposals would bring the Spanish timetable close to the academic calendars of other European countries. This, it is hoped, would encourage even greater mobility of students and university staff within the European Higher Education Area.

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