The call for more Erasmus+ has been heeded, the budget has been doubled and the Commission plans to triple the number of beneficiaries.
SOLIDAR Foundation welcomes improvements that have taken into account the stakeholders review of the programme such as: support for small and grassroots organisations to participate in the programme; establishing centres of excellence (large scale cooperation between VET Providers and other stakeholders); the recognition of civil society as a partner for policy reform and especially the promise to involve a more heterogeneous group of beneficiaries. We particularly appreciate the intention of opening the programme to beneficiaries from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. We remain vigilant, however, as the call does not specify how the obstacles for vulnerable groups and VET learners will be overcome.
Vocational education and training is crucial as it builds the skills, knowledge and competences of young people, teaching them how to learn and adapt in the changing world for their personal development and fulfilment. In this light SOLIDAR Foundation argues that the mobility of VET learners is crucial and needs to be supported by additional measures to effectively implement it, bearing in mind that disadvantaged learners show more positive results than the others, in particular in completing formal learning and in boosting their self-confidence in their education capacities. Projects with young people from vulnerable groups and with learning difficulties need a lot more preparation. The intensive preparation phase for the participants includes language lessons and the intercultural training that are necessary to simply take away their fears of going abroad since often it is their first time leaving their home region. However, this preparation phase is not funded by Erasmus+, not even under extraordinary costs. Other barriers such as difficult phrasing and abstract questions in applications, complicated online tools and administration require extensive assistance by staff that is also not sufficiently funded by the programme.
In the light of our members’ experience it is difficult to imagine that the learners would benefit more from short term or even virtual mobility, the two main tools envisaged by the European Commission for boosting the numbers of beneficiaries.
Virtual experience can be complementary to the physical experience (for example as a follow-up) but cannot replace it. Human contact and full immersion into the daily life of the host country is essential for enhancing the results of international mobility and, therefore, increasing financial support (per capita) to enable more people to travel abroad is a step in right direction. Moreover, the intensive preparation phase would prove very cost-inefficient if done for short mobility periods.
An application for a youth exchange from young people with learning difficulties and from lower socio-economic background looks very different from the usual application from university students. Therefore it is necessary to implement better training for evaluators of funding applications. The mobility programme might take longer (with breaks) and the activities in it might be less numerous. These factors need to be taken into consideration while rating the quality of the project but this is rarely done even when it is explained in the application.
To overcome the obstacles documented above, clear proposals and definitions have to be added by the European Parliament and by Member States in order to enlarge the base of beneficiaries effectively and to implement and harmonise the measures for accompanying disadvantaged learners. Strong and sustainable funding also has to be available for Civil Society Organisations that facilitate the implementation and truly work with disadvantaged groups (the mid-term review states a clear absence of a harmonised definition, across sectors, of people with fewer opportunities and from disadvantaged backgrounds) in order to ensure they participate in the mobility schemes.