ERASMUS+ promotes European harmony

Education, exchange, and enlightenment

Photo: Ilan Kelman
University students in Norway participate in a musical exchange.

Agder, Norway

Education, exchange, and enlightenment: Three Es for improving the world. Learning and teaching, travel and exploration, humanism and being human—they epitomize the European Union’s (EU) student exchange program ERASMUS+ (Erasmus Plus).

The program’s moniker comes from Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, who was born around 1466 and died in 1536. He is known as a philosopher, humanist, synergist, scholar, and theologian, a leading European figure in trying to get Christianity to do better. His legacy lives on through the EU supporting students to travel to other countries for mainly secondary and tertiary education, but they are expanding beyond those levels.

Over 9 million students have traveled to study since ERASMUS, short for “EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students,” began in 1987. Its current incarnation provides about $26.2 billion for 2021-2027 to involve over 4,000 educational institutes across over three dozen countries. Norway formalized its membership on April 12, 2021, with a contribution exceeding $800 million.

ERASMUS+ exists “to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe,” offering travel to other countries for these endeavors. The overarching expectation is “projects that inform, transform, and inspire.” Participating institutions sign on to the “Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE)” articulating principles, such as accessibility, equity, equality, inclusion, nondiscrimination, transferability of credits, high quality, and transparency.

Norway’s 28-page strategy for involvement comprises four objectives. First, to contribute to addressing society’s most pressing problems, presented as inclusion, diversity, citizenship, digitalization, and sustainability. Second, to improve cooperation for skills development applied to the workforce. Norway’s third objective is to ensure possibilities for international learning, and the fourth objective is aiming for policy contributions.

The expectation is building on the successes of the previous ERASMUS+ program from 2014 to 2020. Seventy-nine projects for university course credits involved Norway, using 2.4% of the program’s funding to permit 3,472 people to spend time in Norway while 1,603 left Norway to spend time elsewhere. Hundreds of other projects, including scholarships, curricula development, and educational reform, supported thousands of people traveling to and from Norway.

Stories from ERASMUS+ experiences share common themes: Meeting people, making friends, learning to be more independent, traveling, creating career prospects through education and training, and developing skills and knowledge.

One Dutch university student in Trondheim last year was impressed by Norway’s social conditions. He highlighted gender equity, parental leave, and social support. Back in 2019, 28 Norwegian secondary students attended classes and went through work placements in London. They lived with host families and reported learning so much about other cultures and their approaches to education and work.

Interestingly, few students arriving in Norway seem to explain the importance of learning Norwegian or highlight learning the county’s language. Some took lessons, but most studied in and used principally English. This approach tends to be the way of Europe. When a Greek goes to France or a Finn lives in Spain, the common baseline is English.

The irony is obvious that Europe’s largest anglophone country, the United Kingdom, remains uncertain whether it will stay involved in the EU’s programs on research, education, and training. Norway has rarely had such qualms. While staying outside the EU with ever-present debates on whether to join, Norway has little hesitation in being a full part of these initiatives supporting youth to be open-minded, to exchange with each other, and therefore to contribute more to society—no matter the focus on a single language and with no apparent fear that Norwegian will become diluted.

The COVID-19 pandemic nonetheless curtailed many opportunities. In mid-to-late March 2020, Norwegians around the world struggled to return home as international borders closed and lockdowns were imposed. Despite the disease’s continuing infections and deaths with the specter of long COVID looming through health-care costs and lost labor, no COVID-19-related travel restrictions to Norway currently exist. ERASMUS+ students look forward to spending time in the country, gaining and contributing.

As Norway’s strategy explains, participating in ERASMUS+ is an investment—an investment in “quality, new knowledge, intercultural competence, innovation, and networks for the future.” Despite debates about the EU, this is about humanity and the world.

This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.