Author: Łukasz Lewandowski
Posted: 25 April, 2017

The EU’s study and work abroad programmes are a boon for the economy but more should be done to ensure equality and offer opportunities to those outside university education. EURACTIV Poland reports.

In 2017, the European Union celebrates two important anniversaries. The Treaty of Rome was signed 60 years ago and 30 years ago the Erasmus programme was created. Thanks to this project nearly 5 million Europeans have had the opportunity to study abroad.

Freedom of movement is one of the most substantial achievements of the EU. Every European can go to another EU member state to study, work or just for holiday, enjoying exactly the same rights as any citizen of the country they are visiting.

To encourage Europeans to enjoy freedom of movement and the common market, the EU has created a number of educational and labour programmes, facilitating student exchanges, internships (also in the EU institutions) and voluntary scholarships.

Not just for students

The Erasmus Programme was created in order to support student mobility. This project offers an opportunity not only to study abroad, but also to create new relationships, to experience different cultures, and to improve one’s language skills.

Year on year, the number of people benefiting from scholarships has grown. Now there are 300,000 of them per year, including 14,000 students from Poland.

Erasmus, which is mainly associated with student exchange, has evolved over the years into the Erasmus+ Programme.

It currently includes, in addition to the traditional Erasmus components, further education and training projects, worker exchange programmes, support for young entrepreneurs and even sport projects.

“The mobility improves the professional potential of people in the programme and strengthens the economic efficiency of countries to which they return,” said Professor Elżbieta Kużelewska, the coordinator of the Erasmus+ exchanges at the University of Białystok, and MEP Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz (EPP).

That is why it is in the interests of Europeans, the EU member states and the Union itself to ensure common accessibility to scholarships.

Lack of awareness

Unfortunately, according to student opinions, in comparison to student exchange components, other parts of Erasmus+ are not promoted well enough, so only a small number of people are even aware of their existence.

Additionally, during the “Educational and labour mobility in the EU” university debate, organised by in partnership with the European Parliament and the University of Warsaw, participants highlighted that the other components of the Erasmus+ need much better promotion.

According to the working group on mobility in the context of the Treaty of Rome’s 60th anniversary, led by Kużelewska and Ms Agnieszka Gajda (as student representative), the development of enterprises and innovations, stemming from educational and labour mobility, is a starting point for the development of modern economy.

It also helps ambitious and curious Europeans to climb on rungs of the career ladder.

The working group on educational and labour mobility after Brexit, led by Professor Maria Witkowska and Ms Agata Piela (as student representative), emphasised that it is universities themselves that are responsible for not promoting the various programmes. The group insisted they should be more involved spreading information.

The group’s members also noticed that universities lack flexibility in terms of both organisational and mental aspects (such as schedules and attitude). This lack of flexibility often makes it impossible or difficult for students to benefit from various mobility programmes.

Control is the highest form of trust

There are a number of flaws in the structure of exchange programmes. Professor Kużelewska’s working group brought up the issue of “Erasmus tourism”, where students use their scholarships as an opportunity for a subsidised holiday.

As a result, the scholarships do not always result in an increase in competences or in an increase of competitiveness and innovativeness of labour market.

The working group also recommended an in-depth analysis of the enrolment process. It would prioritise the most determined people, as a way for the programme to better fulfil its guidelines.

Requiring participants to provide a summary of their exchange could be, according to the group, another way of increasing student involvement.

In order to monitor programme accessibility and effectiveness, the European Commission has created the “EU Mobility Scoreboard”. None of its member states have achieved high scores in all the analysed categories.

The results suggest that there are two actions that the EU should take. Firstly, a unified information and advisory service for prospective participants is needed. Secondly, the conditions for receiving scholarships and bursaries should be harmonised across the countries participating in Erasmus+.

Equality first up

A group led by Kozłowska-Rajewicz, Reverend Dr Piotr Burgoński, professor at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, and Mateusz Gregorski on behalf of the students, considered a problem of inequality in terms of access to jobs and education.

The group focused disabled people mobility and their access to labour market. The inequality in accessibility often results from lack of proper workplace adaptation and study spaces tailored to specific needs.

“A legislative barrier on the European level is also playing a nontrivial role here,” warned Kozłowska-Rajewicz. The EU member states have not been able to find a compromise on the common standards for education and labour market accessibility.

Internship promotion

“Another problem is the insufficient promotion of internships and jobs in the EU institutions, which is basically limited just to the EU websites,” complained students from the working group on EU internships.

This group was led by Ewa Modzelewska and Jacek Wasik from the European Commission’s Representation in Poland and by Angelika Gieraś and Paulina Kuta representing the students.

The group recommended using mass media to promote internships, as well as improving the use of social media in these areas. Cooperation with university “career ambassadors” in order to better promote opportunities was recommended.

People who benefited from the European Parliament’s or the European Commission’s internships think that the experience has been a singular experience in their professional development.

What about after?

Exchanges provide a wealth of knowledge and experience, increasing the competitiveness in the labour market. They sometimes open up pathways for employment abroad on a permanent basis, often with much higher wages than in the country of origin.

Financial reasons are among the most popular reasons for preferring to stay in the visited country rather than come back.

A discussion within the working group of Dr Anna Masłoń-Oracz from the Warsaw School of Economics and Dominika Gorajek representing the students, came to a conclusion that the development opportunities provided by Erasmus+ could be further strengthened by creating a single database of employers in the EU, as well as a second one for the past participants of the Erasmus+ programme.

A group led by MEP Professor Zdzisław Krasnodębski (ECR) and  by Filip Haba and Łukasz Lewandowski on the student side, recommended further expanding cooperation between universities and private enterprises on the one side, and governments of the member states and the EU institutions on the other, in order to increase the coordination of the European labour market.

Brain drain and brain waste

The exchange and the possibility of lucrative employment mean risking losing a valuable employee in the country of origin’s labour market.

The leaders of Krasnodębski’s group focused on the brain drain issue. Exchange programmes are a two-way street, as one labour market benefits from the loss of another.

There also exists an additional negative phenomenon: a “brain waste”. It means that people take up a job for which they are overqualified.

“In the Polish context, brain waste seems to be the biggest problem,” said Krasnodębski. The vast majority of Polish emigrants, at least in their initial period of staying abroad, work in such jobs.

Is it worth it?

Educational and labour mobility in the EU helps develop both human capital and the labour market.

To extend their reach, the relevant programmes have to be promoted better so they are known not only among students and people living in the biggest cities. Open borders are an opportunity for anyone to fulfil their potential in any European country.