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Erasmus Mundus turns 20: reflecting on two decades of a global programme

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Erasmus Mundus turns 20: reflecting on two decades of a global programme

30 January 2024
young people university
Eurydice News

As the Erasmus Mundus programme celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, we had the opportunity to speak with Dagmar Höpcke and Bart Cosyns, both are project advisors at the European Education and Culture Executive Agency and actively working on the Erasmus Mundus initiative. Through this conversation, we explore the programme's legacy, its current impact, and the prospects it holds for the future.


Erasmus Mundus is commemorating its 20th anniversary this year. Could you highlight the fundamental characteristics and unique values that define this programme's legacy?


The EU Commission initiated the Erasmus Mundus Programme in 2004 to elevate higher education quality globally through scholarships and academic collaboration. Originally encompassing Master and Joint Doctorate programmes, it transitioned into the Erasmus+ umbrella in 2014. Continuing as Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Programmes (EMJMD), it expanded in 2021 with the Erasmus Mundus Design Measures (EMDM). EMJM programmes are transnational, interdisciplinary masters in different fields, proposed bottom-up by the universities. They should have close ties to the world-of-work and address specific needs in the labour market. Erasmus Mundus has two main components.


A first aim of the action is to foster cooperation and integration (‘jointness’) among higher education institutions, in line with the principles of the Bologna reform. Study programmes at Master level are jointly delivered and jointly recognised by higher education institutions (HEIs) established in Europe, and open to institutions in other countries of the world. 719 joint masters and 43 joint doctoral programmes have been financed under Erasmus Mundus so far, and over 610 different higher education institutions have participated in Erasmus Mundus programmes funded since 2004.


A second component is to attract excellent students from all over the world to study in at least two different countries. An attractive scholarship scheme supports this objective, and in 20 years, more than 50.000 students from all over the world have studied in one of the Erasmus Mundus joint programmes.


Reflecting on its two-decade journey, in what ways has the Erasmus Mundus programme influenced the landscape of international higher education and fostered collaboration among various educational institutions?

Erasmus Mundus has been instrumental in putting some of the Bologna tools into action, including the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), Diploma Supplement (DS), and Quality Assurance mechanisms. From the beginning until the present day, Erasmus Mundus has been at the forefront in these developments and served as a catalyst to further national reforms, notably in the area of joint programmes and joint degree legislation. 


Recently, several Erasmus Mundus programmes were among the first to use the European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes, applying one single cross-border accreditation, valid in all countries involved. 


A more extensive impact study of Erasmus Mundus is currently being prepared, which will be presented at the Erasmus Mundus 20th Anniversary event in Brussels at the end of May 2024. 


For students interested in accessing Erasmus+ funds and scholarships and living this enriching experience, could you explain how the application process works and how they can make the most of this opportunity?

All running Erasmus Mundus Master programmes which offer scholarships or study opportunities for self-funded students are listed in the so-called Erasmus Mundus Catalogue: Students apply directly to the consortia of the master courses of their choice via the respective course website where they will find detailed information on the application process and the selection criteria.  Most consortia organise their student selection between October and January for the courses starting the following academic year. Therefore, we strongly recommend that students start consulting the catalogue in early autumn to get their application ready on time.  


Our advice to all selected students embarking on the ‘Erasmus Mundus journey’ would be first of all to take the necessary time for a thorough preparation before reaching the first host university. In general, consortia provide detailed pre-departure information on campus life, the city and country. Some EU Delegations also organise specific pre-departure events which are considered as very helpful. International students who need a study visa, apostille and other official documents should apply as early as possible as these processes can be very lengthy. And to avoid any unnecessary stress during the studies, they should also investigate the requirements needed for moving to the next study destination well in advance. In general, we recommend taking advantage of the cultural and social activities organised by the different universities and learning the national language as this helps to feel well integrated. Indeed, many master programmes provide free access to such language classes. And finally, we highly encourage students to join the Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA) which counts more than 12,000 members in over 174 countries. It provides access to a large variety of networking opportunities, events, trainings and seminars. EMA can offer support already at application stage, working not only for alumni but also for potential future students.


Erasmus Mundus has facilitated tremendous innovation within universities across countries in developing joint programmes. Now many new joint programmes are being developed within European University Alliances. How do you think the wealth of experience from Erasmus Mundus can best support these European University initiatives? 


Indeed, a high number of European universities involved as coordinators or full partners in the implementation of an Erasmus Mundus joint master programme are also participating in the European University Alliances. The opposite is also true: new European University Alliances are applying to Erasmus Mundus in order to give more content to their cooperation. This alignment is unsurprising, given the extensive strategic partnerships developed over decades. The implementation of a transnational joint master programme is in fact nothing else than the result of a deep cooperation between universities based on a strong institutional commitment of all universities involved. In this sense, Erasmus Mundus joint master programmes comprise many ‘ingredients’ which are reflected in the objectives of the European Universities Initiative. They aim to foster excellence and innovation in higher education and to equip students with cutting-edge skills responding to societal and labour market needs. With two decades of experience in joint curriculum design, transnational collaboration, international student mobility, joint degree conferral, and exploring joint programme accreditation, Erasmus Mundus stands ready to contribute valuable support to the European University initiative.


  Could you share some insights on the new features of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters programme and on how they might enhance the student learning experience?


Yes, there are indeed quite some novelties since 2021. First of all, the new Erasmus Mundus Action comprises now two lots, the Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters (EMJM) which are the continuation of the former Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD) and the new Erasmus Mundus Design Measures lot. The latter are short duration projects of 15 months to support universities in setting up a new transnational joint master programme. The objective  is to reach more diversity in terms of participating universities, countries and thematic fields which also brings more variety of joint master programmes for the student community. The Erasmus Mundus Action is also more international. In fact, joint master programmes and design measure projects can now be coordinated by universities from any country worldwide.


Moreover, EMJM now focus on all enrolled students and not only on scholarship holders as in the past. EMJM consortia now receive financial support for each self-funded student they enrol into the programme. Thus, there are many more study opportunities for students worldwide. The budget has been simplified for increased flexibility, and the new funding mechanism is more generous, providing support for students with special needs. There is no distinction anymore between European and non-European students. Moreover, a reduced duration of the scholarship is now possible in case of recognition of prior learning and also blended mobility, combining virtual with physical academic mobility.


As we look ahead, what can we anticipate in terms of the future development and evolution  of the Erasmus Mundus programme? Are there any upcoming initiatives or advancements on the horizon?

We need to await the mid-term reviews and Programme evaluations before making statements beyond the current Programming period 2021-2027, but it is clear that joint international programmes will continue to be part of the future education Programme. 


While the added value of Joint Programmes in general, and of Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters in particular, is widely recognised, implementing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master programme is challenging and labour-intensive. The trend towards more flexibility and simplification is highly appreciated and might be further developed. Moreover, with the creation of the Erasmus Mundus Design Measures lot in 2021, the aim was to enlarge the scope of Erasmus Mundus and encourage the participation of underrepresented institutions and countries. In the first calls, we saw again a rise in the number of applicants and interested applicants.  


Another positive evolution since 2021 is the opening of the action towards institutions in other countries of the world, with more flexible mobility rules and fewer restrictions for third country HEIs to fully participate in the mobility scheme. This international dimension, well-received by applicants, is expected to strengthen in the future.


Erasmus Mundus helped to pave the way for more recent debates and initiatives, such as the European Universities Alliances and the Erasmus+ projects to pilot a Joint European Degree Label. In 2024, before the end of the current College of Commissioners, a Communication on a Joint European Degree is expected to be issued by the European Commission, building partially on the experience of Erasmus Mundus.


 In its two-decade span, Erasmus Mundus has established a recognisable brand, becoming a key tool in public diplomacy. It is referenced in national legislation, known across European HEIs, and popular among thousands of excellent students worldwide, making the Erasmus Mundus Catalogue one of the most visited pages on the European Commission website.


Author: Anna Maria Volpe







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