The introduction of the new Erasmus+ exchange programme has yet to demonstrate its potential as increased delays, poor communication and changing Glasgow University partnership agreements has led to frustration among students.
On January 1, the new Erasmus+ programme replaced the previous system with promises that the larger €14.7 billion budget provided by the EU over the next six years would see a greater number of students benefitting from the opportunity to go on exchange. The new programme, which is being managed in the UK by the British Council, claims to be geared towards increasing the social mobility of students involved in the scheme.
The British Council website states that: “Almost five million people across Europe will benefit between 2014 and 2020 - doubling the numbers who currently receive these opportunities.”
However, the arrival of Erasmus+ has been largely unwelcomed by the potential exchange students across Glasgow University who have encountered more complications with the programme than in previous years.
For many second year students at the University looking to go on an Erasmus exchange, the only information available up until February - when deadlines for applications were looming - was outdated and misleading. The University’s Erasmus office announced at the Study Abroad fair in October that delays would be likely to occur as a result of Glasgow University having to renew or cancel its agreements with current partner universities in the EU.
The University’s 2014/2015 application guide for outgoing exchange students stated that: “The Erasmus office will be able to provide departments and students with a finalised list of partners for provisional selection and application purposes in early January. All outgoing student mobility will be contingent upon Glasgow’s agreement with their partner of choice being fully renewed and valid in advance of their exchange.”
With little information available, the only option for many interested students was to research previous partner universities in the hope that Glasgow University would continue to have agreements with them. The onus was also on students to frequently check the University’s Erasmus page for updates, with few or no emails being sent to students to announce the new changes and deadlines.
However, with the finalised list of partner universities being announced a month later than anticipated at the beginning of February, and with agreements for the College of Arts still pending until late February, many students struggled to research universities and apply on time.
The University, however, claimed that details of any students missing out on the chance to study abroad have not been brought to its attention. A spokesperson said: "The University has not been made aware of any student having missed out on a placement as a direct result of the implementation of the new Erasmus+ programme."
While the delays may not have directly cost students the chance to study abroad, the lack of information and updates made it much more difficult for students. For example, politics students hoping to go on Erasmus were only given a ten day window upon finding out the new partner universities in which to research the universities, make a decision and submit their application.
Several students were left many unimpressed and upset at missing out on an exchange opportunity. Second-year History student Suzy Richardson said: “I definitely think it was unfortunate that it was so badly organised and so late as well. It’s a shame for us students. If we had known before Christmas how little choice we would have through Erasmus then I would 100% have put my time into applying internationally with Study Abroad! In that sense I think we have been let down by the delays.”
Erasmus subject co-ordinators had also voiced their concerns about the University’s efforts to confirm partnership agreements and keep students informed. One tutor emailed arts students saying: “Apologies that the University has been so slow in confirming which European partner universities we will have formal agreements with for next session.”
Glasgow University now has over 200 partnerships for the new Erasmus+ programme, but the potential of having so many exchange opportunities in place is not being realised by this year’s would-be exchange students due to the delays in finding out about the partner universities.
The Erasmus+ programme has the aim of enabling students from subjects that have previously been ill-served by the Erasmus programme the chance to go on exchange. However, subjects such as Economics and Law continue to have the most partnerships with many science and arts subjects having only 2-3 partners - many of which require fluency in another language.
A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow told Glasgow Guardian: “The introduction of the new Erasmus+ programme in January 2014 required the formal renegotiation of new agreements with all 350-plus European partners. This entailed a significant amount of process changes, new documentation requirements and the removal of inactive agreements in order to maximise the opportunities available for students.
“The process was carried out in collaboration with Colleges and Schools, with clear deadlines set by the Erasmus team. Students were updated as soon as the Erasmus Exchange team and Colleges/Schools had negotiated the new agreements.
“Students were given as much information as possible at each step of the process, with the University’s website being updated as each step of the process was completed. In addition, the Erasmus Exchange team held regular student meetings and offered drop-in sessions for all students to update and advise them as required."