“Erasmus+ is an important instrument to promote the inclusion of people with disadvantaged backgrounds, especially newly arrived migrants, in response
to critical events affecting European countries.”
Since the beginning of 2015, more than a million irregular migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe, according to the statistics by the IOM. Apart from the economic and political consequences of this constant influx of migrants, one of the main challenges that remains to be solved is their integration in their host country and their access to education. According to some of the most recent Eurostat statistics, the EU received 150% more first asylum requests in the third quarter of 2015 if compared with the same period of the previous year, with almost four out of five applicants being aged less than 35. This clearly calls for a reform of the EU’s education and vocational training capabilities towards a system that allows for the integration of asylum seekers within our societies. Among other things, this would imply easier recognition of the educational background and titles of migrants and refugees and better access to schools and education.
In the yearly Erasmus+ Programme Guide, published in late October 2015, a new element aiming at integrating migrants in Europe was included. Building on its reputation as a successful European project from which thousands of Europeans have profited, the new Programme Guide suggested that Erasmus + could also be a solution to facilitate integration of non-European migrants in a time of growing xenophobia and intolerance. The question is: can this work?
The changes in Erasmus +
Let’s proceed in order. 2014 was the first of the seven-year frameworks of the European Commission that introduced significant changes to the EU’s education portfolio by, for instance, reuniting all the existing programmes in a joint and coordinated programme, the Erasmus+.
The changes introduced with the launch of the Horizon 2020 (H2020) funding programme applicable for the 2014-2020 period were seen as fundamental for the creation of a common educational strategy for the EU. This strategy aims to bring together the Higher Education Area (in charge for example of the most well-known Erasmus and Erasmus Mundus programmes) with the Vocational Education and Training (VET) programmes focused mainly on allowing young people to enter the job market.
What makes the new Programme Guide particularly interesting is the decision to use its potential as an instrument towards the integration of recent waves of migrants and refugees. In particular, with regard to youth projects, the organizations willing to apply for Erasmus+ funds will need from now on to prove their capacity to reach out to young people with fewer opportunities, including refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and thereby promote social inclusion and tolerance. Projects involving these categories as well as raising awareness of the current challenges of this issue across Europe will be accorded special attention.
In order to gather examples of the best practices in terms of initiatives implemented so far under this rationale, in November 2015 the EU carried out a survey among organisations working in school education, VET and adult learning. As the ultimate goal of the novelty introduced within the latest Programme Guide for Erasmus+ is that of facilitating the integration of non-European migrants in a time of growing xenophobia and intolerance, the survey had a double function, providing the European policy makers with a picture of the status quo of member states in terms of integrating these people while highlighting the best existing practices in the field. The results thus brought some evidence of the major difficulties in achieving better integration of migrants and refugees and raised some very positive examples of existing projects across EU member states.
Among the 256 replies received from fifteen countries it is worth mentioning a few. For instance, the Dutch pre-teaching framework for VET focuses more directly on the possibility of accessing the job market. In other countries more general programmes are in place aiming at social inclusion of migrants and refugees for instance the “Early Integration of Migrants” (EIM) in Slovenia, a friendship programme between high school students and groups of young refugees in Finland or awareness raising campaigns in Spain. In a nutshell, the survey replies pointed to a need for a better strategy to disseminate information about good practices across the EU in the framework of Erasmus+ and provide networking opportunities for projects and organisations. The EU personnel, especially those working at the Directorate General for Education and Culture in charge of the Erasmus+ programme, will have to take into serious consideration these results and work towards an harmonization of such practices across the 28 member states, particularly by showing the benefits for the entire society of integrating these new citizens of the Union rather than blocking them at the entrance of the European ‘fortress’.
This seems like the start of what could become a really positive initiative of the EU. Nevertheless, it will be possible only if the latter makes good use of the positive leverage of its Erasmus + programme in order to build a more coherent and inclusive action plan in the context of its agenda on migration. Awareness campaigns should be organised, aiming both at European citizens and at the final beneficiaries of the programme, in order to fight any discriminatory perception of these new citizens of Europe. A strong cooperation among member states will thus be required if there is to be an impact of the programme. Participation and additional state funds might be necessary to provide for the structural needs of the various integration programmes.
On the positive side, this could be the chance to really prove what the + stands for in the newly changed name of this EU programme, the added value of being a European community, a Union.