Erasmus+’s Promise of Inclusion

Achim Meyer auf der Heyde takes stock
Reading time: 3 min.

In the DAADeuroletter 69, which was published in mid-2020, Achim Meyer auf der Heyde wrote a guest commentary entitled «Those who want social inclusion must tackle social imbalances» about the changes he believed were necessary to make the new programme phase of Erasmus+ even more inclusive. Has enough been done? The former Secretary General of the German National Association for Student Affairs (Deutsches Studentenwerk) answers in the affirmative, but also reminds us of the need for a critical examination and review of the measures.

After four semesters under pandemic conditions, universities throughout the country returned to in-person teaching again in the summer semester 2022. Students were able to study under «normal» conditions again, some for the first time ever.This also means building intercultural skills and competences, something few students had the opportunity to do during the uninterrupted period of isolated online learning.

Experience abroad is important

An equally important part of studying today, however, is spending time abroad, practicing language skills, immersing ourselves in different cultural environments, study programmes and courses and generally living in other countries. In my opinion, the concept of «internationalisation at home» is a poor substitute for the much needed sensual experience. Students need to make up for this deficit as quickly as possible, especially given the fact that the pandemic probably also prevented many school-leavers from realising plans to go abroad, so that we can effectively speak of a «deficit in international experiences».

Portrait picture of Achim Meyer auf der Heyde, former Secretary General of the German Student Union
© Kay Herschelmann

Achim Meyer auf der Heyde was Secretary General of the German National Association for Student Affairs from October 2003 to the end of September 2021. 

Erasmus+ is called for

Specifically for Erasmus+, this means helping to make visits abroad possible for students who tended not to benefit from such opportunities in the past. International mobilities are largely dependent on participants’ social origins, as the Social Studies of the German National Association for Student Affairs have documented for many years. Mainly financial and social barriers prevent students from lower-income families or those with poor access to education from taking such a step. And students with disabilities are often denied the funding needed for assistive support.

An initial assessment

Let’s take a closer look at the Erasmus+ measures that are designed to promote inclusion and diversity.Increasing grant levels is one important step. It is questionable, however, whether this increase will be sufficient given the high rate of inflation. The same applies to the fundamentally attractive lump-sum additional payment for target groups who have had less access to mobilities in the past. The new (shortened) formats may trigger interest and enable potential participants to get an initial taste of mobilities. 

Individual travel allowances may also be helpful for certain students, however proving disability or chronic illness should occur in an unbureaucratic way, otherwise the negative experiences many students with disabilities had when applying for accommodations may be repeated. Halfway through the funding period, reviews should be carried out to find out whether the promise of inclusion is being upheld or whether adjustments need to be made.