The European Commission is set to launch a radical student exchange scheme designed to strengthen relations between the European Union and North America.
The five-year scheme is a key part of the Transatlantic Agenda signed by the two major continents in Madrid in December, that stressed the need for closer links at a personal as well as government level. The scheme will encourage young Americans and Canadians to gain first-hand experience of European society and culture, while boosting transatlantic cooperation throughout EU member states.
Constance Meldrum, principal adviser in the commission's directorate general for education and training, said during last week's Euro-meeting on higher education in Brussels that while substantial numbers of European students went to North America, the relatively few Americans who came here tended to stay in self-contained groups.
Tom O'Dwyer, EC director general for education and training, has said the aim is not student exchanges per se, but to fully integrate students into the host institutions' normal academic and cultural life. Even larger numbers would benefit through staff exchanges, curriculum development and "virtual mobility" using new technology, he said.
The commission will soon announce the first six Canadian cooperative programmes, to be followed by up to ten with the United States. Each must have at least three partners on each side of the Atlantic, and two in different EU or US states, or Canadian provinces.
In a shift from EU schemes, the programmes will embrace both higher education and vocational education and training, and the annual Ecu1.5 million (Pounds 1.8 million) funding will be matched by Canada and the US.
There have been almost 60 proposals for the Canadian programmes, and 140 for the US ones, many of them from the United Kingdom. But the commission is likely to prefer bids from areas where hitherto there has been little transatlantic cooperation.
New projects will be chosen annually, and funded for three years. They are expected to promote partnerships between both higher and further education institutions, and bodies such as chambers of commerce and professional associations. Ms Meldrum said that while research institutes were welcome as associate partners, the scheme was directed at teaching.