EU Funding Programmes – a Building Block for Strategic Internationalisation

The University of Cologne and the Erasmus+ programme
Reading time: 5 min.

The University of Cologne has actively participated in the European education programme since Erasmus was launched in 1987. This has contributed significantly to the establishment and expansion of international structures at the University and to the visibility and popularity of international mobilities, and it continues to be a core element of student periods abroad.

At the end of the 1980s, the introduction of the Erasmus programme also had a «big bang» effect on internationalisation processes at the University of Cologne. Within a very short time, the number of student mobility programmes multiplied. Until the mid-1990s, the primary aim of internationalisation endeavours was systematic expansion. From the end of the decade, mobility then became part of a broader framework of cooperation activities designed to develop a «European dimension» throughout the University’s academic programme. The view was taken that internationalisation should be seen as a strategic process that had to be managed institutionally.

Today, around 65% of Cologne student mobilities are attributable the Erasmus+ programme. This means that Cologne’s Erasmus network (currently around 400 partner universities and approximately 800 subject-based agreements in all programme countries) plays a central role for students in all three phases of their education. With a scholarship budget of approximately 3.3 million euros, the number of outgoing Cologne students in 2022/2023 has risen well above 1,000.

 Porträt von Christiane Biehl, Leiterin der Abteilung 93 «Internationale Mobilität» und stellvertretende Leiterin des Dezernats Internationales der Universität zu Köln
© privat

Christiane Biehl
Head of Department 93 «International Mobility» and Deputy Head of the Division International Affairs at the University of Cologne

Erasmus+ – a driver of internationalisation

Erasmus+ has always been a driving force behind internationalisation, inspiring many innovative ideas and helping establish exchange programmes and the structures they require. As a result, the University of Cologne has implemented qualitative processes for exchange cooperations that have become an integral part of everyday university life, for example student supervision, innovative, target group-oriented exchange formats, transparency of selection criteria, principles of equality and a commitment to the recognition and documentation of processes. Current social issues such as sustainability, digitalisation, inclusion and diversity, as prioritised by the current programme generation, also feature prominently in the University’s internationalisation strategy. 

As a globally oriented research institution, the University of Cologne seeks to collaborate with top-tier researchers, students and doctoral candidates worldwide and it wants to offer them the best possible conditions and support. In this respect, it pursues the following internationalisation goals: internationalisation of research, studies and teaching and a commitment to global responsibility. It has drawn up a catalogue of measures with 13 areas of activity. As a strategic funding and networking instrument, the Erasmus+ programme plays a fundamental role because, in almost all actions, funding has contributed to the realisation of these goals and/or their further development.

Thirteen areas of activity to achieve the internationalisation goals (using EU funding)

  • Coherence of the international university network (Erasmus+ Key Action 2, Horizon 2020, European University Alliances)
  • Internationalisation of research and researchers (Erasmus+, Horizon 2020)
  • Internationalisation of degree programme structures (Erasmus+ KA1 and KA2)
  • Digitalisation and internationalisation (Erasmus+ KA 1 and KA2)
  • Language policy (Erasmus+ KA1 and KA2)
  • Expansion of international partnerships to increase international mobility (Erasmus+)
  • Further improvement of conditions for international students (Erasmus+ KA1 and KA2)
  • Expansion of a coherent system of short-term programmes at home and abroad (Erasmus+ KA1 and KA2)
  • Global responsibility (Erasmus+ KA2)
  • International alumni work (Erasmus+ KA1)
  • Alignment of support structures
  • Development of planning and control capacities, reporting system
  • Interculturality at home (Erasmus+ KA1 and KA2)

Examples of networking activities

With regard to individual funding for students and lecturers, the programme supports a wide range of exchange formats: study-based exchanges, internships, summer schools and online formats (blended mobility). Erasmus+ therefore helps develop an attractive, broad-based portfolio for different target groups and in some areas also has capacity-building impacts. Internship allowances for student teachers at schools and universities abroad have made it possible to forge closer ties with the institutions and as a result to create a robust network for Cologne students and the University: the internships@schoolsabroad programme.

Another important element of the University of Cologne’s internationalisation strategy is the internationalisation of administration as an interface and service point for the faculties. By developing administrative staff, the University opens up opportunities to strengthen constructive partnerships between academia and administration and to raise these to a new level.

To advance the internationalisation of research and teaching, Erasmus+ offers early career researchers the opportunity to gain what is often their first teaching experience abroad and to build international networks. This measure is a valuable instrument for testing collaboration with a view to establishing more comprehensive partnerships in research and teaching. Activities like this frequently lead to tri- or multilateral cooperation projects. One example is the European network Coimbra Group, which the University of Cologne joined in 2017.

Individual measures have also produced more intensive collaboration formats which, in turn, have led to successful strategic partnership projects (KA2) and address social issues that are highly relevant in terms of global responsibility and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Examples include the projects ACCENT (Accessible Entrepreneurship – Empowerment for Global Futures) and BRIGHTS (Bringing HEIs towards Sustainability) as well as IANUS II, an Erasmus Mundus project with Eastern Partnerships.

One last example is the European Universities alliance EUniWell. At the University of Cologne, this alliance plays a very important strategic role in research, teaching, administration and networking activities with the public, especially in terms of actively shaping the European Higher Education Area. Before the consortium was founded, a range of Erasmus+ agreements was already in place to provide support in the application process.

 Eingangsportal der Universität Köln mit Bronzestatue Bronzestatue von Albertus Magnus im Vordergrund
© Tomy Badurina Fotografie

In the winter semester 2022/23, 48,214 students were enrolled at the University of Cologne. Of the University’s total student population, 51 percent were women and 11 percent of international origin, coming from around 150 different nations.


The objectives and opportunities of the Erasmus+ programme are key to the successful implementation of the University of Cologne’s internationalisation strategy. The programme has become an indispensable part of everyday university life. One of its main cornerstones, of course, continues to be its strategic use to support individual mobilities. Thanks to – in some cases – «low-threshold» funding structures and individual actions, diversely networked and sustainable structures have emerged.

The existing European (Erasmus) networks are an excellent basis for testing, establishing and intensifying new cooperation partnerships and formats, so that even more intensive participation in «cooperation partnerships» and «policy development support» is possible in the future. Structural projects and innovative ideas can be developed to establish lasting multilateral collaborations with European partner institutions and actively help shape the European Higher Education Area.

Christiane Biehl
University of Cologne
Christiane Biehl, Universität zu Köln