A resolution for 2023: Switzerland joining the Erasmus+ programme!
By promoting exchange and mobility of young people, motivating them to meet and confront each other in a collaborative or even competitive spirit, we could aim to place education at the core of our international policy agenda and to strengthen a strong and sustainable intercultural understanding between Switzerland and Europe. A promising vision, an unquestionable focus and a pragmatic step to gradually improve the failing narrative about Switzerland’s place in Europe.
International cooperation as a key to the future of education
“Erasmus” sounds universal and has almost become part of everyday language. Most people associate it with a study semester abroad and the related “clichés” about student parties. But it’s far more. Erasmus has long since ceased to be limited to higher education institutions, but includes nowadays offers for all levels of education. And behind the familiar word lies a unique and irreplaceable network of international cooperation and mobility that stretches across Europe and beyond. Its potential for the Swiss education system and its international attractiveness is invaluable.
Why? Because international cooperation means access to networks and collaborative structures which enhance the quality of the education system, contribute to its development and further excellence. Adding an international dimension to any curriculum means added value for everyone – for the students, for the institutions and for the education system as a whole.
Moreover, the individual skills acquired through an exchange are countless. Among the 10-15 skills of the future identified by employers, many can be acquired by spending a semester at a foreign university, following a traineeship in a company abroad, or by taking part in a job-shadowing at a different institution. Interculturality is a skill in high demand on the labour market, and will most likely remain so in the future.
Common challenges and benefits in education field
Switzerland is located in the middle of the European continent and surrounded by EU member states. We live and pursue the same values and goals, and struggle with the same challenges, also in the field of education. Challenges such as the lack of qualified teachers and topics such as the provision of soft skills are relevant for all of Europe including Switzerland and should be addressed together. Exchanging and learning from each other about teacher training, new ways of learning and skills for the future are beneficial for all. At the same time, these benefits of exchange and mobility go beyond education. The immersion in other countries and cultures broadens horizons and contributes to solving international challenges in other areas, like migration and integration as well as peace keeping.
Both sides have much to gain. The EU, for example, has years of experience and functioning vessels and mechanisms in the area of exchange and mobility. At the same time, Switzerland can contribute its expertise in various topics, such as vocational training and multilingualism. Switzerland and the EU are both interested in closer cooperation of labour markets. This makes mobility and cooperation in vocational education and training (VET), which are closely linked to labour market needs, all the more important. If companies work together in education and training, this strengthens mutual trust and strengthens cooperation more broadly. At the same time, cooperation in education leads to a better understanding of the training systems and to a better recognition of diplomas and competences.
Moreover, mobility and cooperation in education are also the foundation for a successful research landscape, which in turn thrives on international networks and contacts. If future researchers are offered the opportunity to network and gain international experience already during their studies, the more effective their involvement in European research collaboration will be.
Cooperation in education is now complicated for both parties
Movetia the swiss national agency for exchange and mobility, regularly receives concrete requests for the participation of Swiss institutions in Erasmus+ projects, both from the Swiss side and from European partners. Unfortunately, due to the non-association, these requests cannot usually be supported and any alternatives do not offer the same added value.
The implementation of exchange and cooperation projects via the Swiss programme for Erasmus+ is significantly more complicated and expensive for both sides and covers only a part of the Erasmus offers. The parallel processes comes with higher costs and additional resources that educational institutions need to invest. Erasmus+ cooperation projects between Swiss and European educational institutions can currently only be realised partially and with clear limitations. Even where Swiss institutions have access to Erasmus+ actions (e.g. the European Universities initiative), they cannot benefit from the same tools and opportunities (such as platforms, networks etc.) as their partners and are thus disadvantaged or cannot exploit the full potential of cooperation. This in turn reduces the benefits of cooperation for the European partners and the attractiveness of a partnership with Swiss institutions As far as the Swiss programme for exchange and mobility is concerned, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Switzerland to maintain compatibility with Erasmus+. The differences in offers and processes are increasing and cooperation in education will become more complicated for all parties involved.
European education united.
In the current climate of global insecurity and rising challenges, the need for European actors in education to stick together to promote and defend democracy, academic freedom and diversity in Europe is all the more important. We all know, that the political impasse between Switzerland and the EU won’t be easy to solve. But in order to enable collaboration despite or meanwhile, Erasmus+ (and potentially other programmes) could open all their actions for the immediate like-minded EU neighbours, such as Switzerland, to enable at least the participation of educational institutions as self-funded associated partners and associated coordinators. The idea is that in the absence of an association to the programme, all projects would be open for Swiss partners as long as they bring their own funding into the project. This form of participation is already possible for certain Erasmus+ actions, but not for all. Opening all programme actions would contribute to strengthening the European education systems and bring European societies closer together.
To sum up, it is imperative that negotiations for Switzerland’s association to Erasmus+ be resumed without delay. In the context of the upcoming European Year of Skills 2023 in particular, political disputes between Switzerland and EU should not be to the detriment of young people and education actors. Switzerland’s future lies in Erasmus+!
With the contribution of Monika Wohlhauser
Image mise en avant/Credit for the picture https://erasmus-ch.ch/en/erasmus-and-switzerland/