For Ghent University, Erasmus+ is a vital instrument in the attainment of its strategic ambition to see 25% of its students study abroad by 2020. Erasmus+ Key Action 1a on student mobility accounts for 85% of the University’s outgoing exchange. Moreover, as a comprehensive higher education institution with more than 42,000 students, Ghent University greatly values the opportunities that the programme brings for the internationalisation and modernisation of its educational offer, as well as for capacity building with its overseas partners.
Not surprisingly, the University’s expectations were high prior to the launching of Erasmus+ in 2014, when both the budget extension and increased “user-friendliness” were announced. Indeed, in times of ever increasing pressure on staff, the efficiency and effectiveness of funding programmes for educational projects is vital to keep participation attractive, both for academic leadership and administrators. The streamlining of Erasmus+ certainly makes for a much welcomed, more straightforward promotion of the opportunities for potential beneficiaries, and in some areas the progress made on administrative simplification is evident. However, further opportunities for administrative simplification among the different sub-actions remain. In other words, the successful macro-level streamlining was not fully matched at the level of the practitioners.
For example, the Erasmus+ Programme Guide as a unified document, though initially welcomed, became large, unwieldy and, paradoxically, lacking in detail. This resulted in a variety of fragmented additional supporting documents per action, call and/or contract. Another example is the differences in amounts and structures of unit costs across the various sub-actions, which become apparent through a close reading of the funding data provided by the Programme Guide. To facilitate management, a harmonisation across the sub-actions would be welcome. The user-friendliness of the unit cost system itself should also not be overrated, because it implies double accountancy efforts on the beneficiary side, while the reduction in funding it brought is regretfully not fully compensated through the scrapping of the co-financing demand.
Another novelty was the decentralisation of the management of actions such as the Strategic Partnerships. In the experience of Ghent University, it puts European added value and the quality of project execution at risk, with perceived differences in the evaluation of project proposals and/or the duplication of efforts across programme countries. The generic approach of the Strategic Partnerships allows for great flexibility, but in order to tackle certain priorities more directly and with greater impact, the University welcomes more specific calls, such as the 2016 Key Action 3 call on social inclusion.
Overall an ambitious programme, Erasmus+ is effective and well-structured at the macro level. It remains a vital instrument for internationalisation and modernisation activities, and Ghent University looks forward to its continuation at an increased funding level with a sustained simplification effort, continued attention to quality in student and staff mobility, improved IT support tools, reinforced European added value, and strengthened possibilities for sustainable international cooperation. In today’s world, the mobility of learners and the internationalisation of universities remain crucial instruments in safeguarding open societies.
By Andries Verspeeten
Andries Verspeeten is Policy Advisor in the International Relations Office of the Department of Educational Policy at Ghent University in Belgium.
Ghent University participated in the 2016 EUA member consultation on Erasmus+. To see the survey findings, please click here.
Photo © UGent, photo Hilde Christiaens