SPHERE study on disadvantaged students in International Credit Mobility (ICM)

In the June edition of the Newsletter we reported on the progress of our study of disadvantage in ICM. Readers will recall that SPHERE had been asked by the EU authorities to investigate how far the Erasmus+ definition of disadvantage (Erasmus+ Programme Guide 2019, p.10) assists Partner Country students whose outward mobility is made more difficult by adverse medical, economic, social, cultural and geographic factors.

The study is now complete and will be published in the near future. We reviewed the three most recent years of NEO monitoring reports and ran online surveys of NEOs and National Agencies in the Programme Countries, as well as previously and currently mobile students. We followed these with Skype interviews. We also interviewed a sample of HEREs and staff in International Relations Offices.

We looked at the legal definitions of disadvantage in Partner Countries in the Eastern Partnership, the South-Mediterranean and the Western Balkans, to see how far they matched the specifications in the E+ Programme Guide. We found wide variations in law and practice from country to country. No country is completely aligned with the Erasmus+ definition.

We found that in general the selection of students for E+ mobility pays little regard to disadvantage. There is nevertheless widespread awareness that, among other obstacles, many students have difficulty in self-funding the initial cost of visas, travel and insurance, particularly when visas can only be obtained outside their home country.

The E+ Programme allows a percentage of the Organisational Support funding to be transferred to cover some of these costs. We could find very little evidence that this happens. On the contrary, it appears that the institutions in the Partner Country typically receive no share of this Support, often because they are unaware of its existence. They play virtually no role in drafting the Inter-Institutional Agreements which underpin the project partnerships.

We were forced to conclude that the E+ principles and mechanisms which are designed to widen access for the disadvantaged in the Partner Countries have little demonstrable effect. We were able to make a series of comments and recommendations which we hope are constructive.

We were struck by the high level of satisfaction among the mobile students. This was very encouraging. They also made a range of observations on how E+ Programme can become even more successful.

The Programme needs to build a much stronger consensus on what constitutes disadvantage. This in turn depends on a number of measures which we ask the European Commission to consider, as well as a higher level of commitment to the existing policy by both Partner and Programme Country institutions.

We will present a summary of the report at the SPHERE Annual conference in Prague in December.

Once again, we take the opportunity of thanking everybody who has helped us along the way.

Howard Davies, SPHERE Team, November 28 2019