Elm Magazine asked Petra Kammerevert, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education, whether she is satisfied with the first draft of the new Erasmus programme.

“Erasmus programme needs to be designed more inclusively”

Interview. In order to create a unified European area of education, all member states should agree on common educational goals, including a fixed amount they will contribute to education, says Petra Kammerevert.

14.09.2018

Brexit, right-wing populism, national egoism: Europe seems to be in a bad shape. Do you share this impression?

“The idea that the bond created by an economically unified Europe alone would be strong enough to ensure a sufficient and, more importantly, long-term identification with Europe turned out to be illusory.

In order to be able to create a long-term feeling of identification with Europe, education and cultural exchange are indispensable.

The very moment the first cracks in the perception of Europe being an economic success story appeared, we saw an enormous upward trend in populism, nationalism and political extremism all over Europe. This did not surprise me at all.

In order to be able to create a long-term feeling of identification with Europe, education and cultural exchange are indispensable.

This rethinking in politics can be linked to the new European Pillar of Social Rights. Part of this new policy is the creation of a European Education Area by 2025.

The new goals the commission agreed on are no longer focusing on employability alone, but much more on social competencies. The draft for the new Erasmus programme was also strongly influenced by this spirit.”

Petra Kammerevert

  • was born 1966 in Duisburg and lives in Düsseldorf (Germany);
  • is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD);
  • Member of European Parliament since 2009 ;
  • and chair of the Committee on Culture and Education in the European Parliament since October 2010.
  • Main political activities are media, culture, youth politics, education and sports.

National values and the term ‘homeland’ are highly regarded by many across Europe at the moment. How about focusing more on ‘Europe’ when it comes to the new goals instead of employment and social competencies only?

“At this point, one should distinguish carefully. On one hand, values can have a liberal and unifying approach, but on the other hand also a separating and nationalistic one. The term ‘European values’, at first glance, is a well-sounding but empty phrase.

Almost the entire funding of Erasmus is put into mobility projects. For education practitioners, this is a disappointment.

One must, however, be mindful of what that phrase really means. By “European”, we mean fundamental values as stipulated in the Charter and EU contract such as respect for human dignity, constitutionality and protection of minority rights.

Erasmus, the European education programme, hardly deals with this type of education work at all. Almost the entire funding is put into mobility projects. For education practitioners, this is a disappointment.

Especially in education, values cannot be implemented by the EU or a state or program in a “top-down” approach. Instead, they should be adopted by the people. In order to achieve that, exchanges and physical encounters are needed.

Erasmus and other European programmes make these exchanges and encounters possible. One can only hope that individual activities will trigger new points of view among participants as well as creating more openness towards what is foreign.”

So are we just talking about informal education instead of funding European educational work and its respective institutions?

“Historically seen, Erasmus has always been an exchange programme. Erasmus is not suitable for funding direct educational work.

Informal education does have many advantages after all, like the promotion of intercultural dialogue or the development of soft skills. Apart from that, one has to consider that six renowned higher education institutions are funded through Erasmus.

There are other programmes but, admittedly, with much less funding. To name one, there is ‘Europe for Citizens’ with a budget of €250 million, but this is nowhere near enough. A new programme called ‘Values’ is currently being developed. The budget for on-site educational work is supposed to be €500 million in this project.”

The national states do not seem to be very interested in Europe interfering with their educational affairs. This applies especially to Germany with its federalism. Do you share this impression?

“As long as programmes, such as Erasmus, are all about receiving monetary funding from the EU, all member states are happy. As soon as things are about lowering barriers and, for example, accrediting the countries’ different high school degrees equally, great concerns will be raised.

If the matter only deals with the topic ‘exchange’, there are only winners. If the EU wants more from its member states, for example, an improved recognition of degrees, a defensive attitude is taken immediately and we are being told: ‘You are not allowed to do that!’ – especially in Germany.”

Do you have concrete demands for the member states on how to realise this unified European area of education?

“Yes. For example, one could define a fixed amount that all member states must contribute to education, the member states could agree on common educational goals, or there could be mutual recognition of school leaving certificates.”

Are you satisfied with the first draft of the new Erasmus programme?

“The fact that the budget will be doubled to €30 billion initially makes me very happy. What makes me sceptical, however, is a statement made by the commission that the number of participants should be tripled.

Sustainable effects cannot be achieved by rushing things or through ill-prepared projects. It really isn’t preferable for mobility in adult education to be reduced to the teaching staff.

“We are hopefully able to bring into being many more project proposals than before”

Mobility exchange for adult learners is reduced to a virtual experience. This cannot be in our interest at all, as we always explain that the programme needs to be designed more inclusively. Now we are heading towards a two-tier society.”

Where do you see special opportunities and hope for adult education?

“There is enough to do. Adult education, in particular, continues to be underexposed.

I, for example, would appreciate a mentoring programme in which younger people could benefit from the skills of older ones.

By doubling the Erasmus budget to €1.26 billion, we are hopefully able to bring into being many more project proposals than before. Even the idea of virtual meetings of adults can be regarded as an opportunity.

I also believe that it is worthwhile using the opportunities offered by digitalisation more specifically. What I expect from this is greater openness and better access to education for everyone.

Today, the level of education and the degree one can achieve largely depends on one’s social background. Digitalisation could make a decisive contribution to changing this for the better. This is my political vision of how we should use and shape the opportunities given.”

Key points of the commission’s proposal for the restructuring of Erasmus (2021-2027)

  • Doubling the budget to €30 billion. The budget for adult education will also be doubled (to €1.26 billion), but, at a share of just 4%, remains the smallest part of the programme.
  • Stronger involvement for disadvantaged groups
  • No mobility funding for adult learners, only for teachers working in adult education
  • Re-introduction of smaller projects without the necessity to develop complex products
  • Transnational partnerships for the development of innovative projects continue to be part of the programme.
  • The name of the programme is now “Erasmus” (the “+” was dropped). Special words denoting the individual education sectors (e.g. “Grundtvig” for adult education) as in earlier programmes and often required will no longer be used.