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New ACA study out! Erasmus+: Decentralised Actions – First Experiences

From April until June this year, ACA conducted a study on the first experiences of Erasmus+ National Agencies (NAs) with the implementation of the Erasmus+ programme in their countries. The study, based on a survey and interviews, was commissioned by the European Parliament and was produced for its Committee on Culture and Education (CULT). The aim of the study was to look into the perceived opportunities and challenges in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme, specifically in its decentralised actions, i.e. those actions managed by the NAs. The study also aimed to put forward a number of suggestions that would make the implementation of the programme in the remaining period more efficient and more effective. In total, as many as 40 (of a total of 61) NAs actively supported this research (by filling in the survey and/or via the interviews). ACA is thankful to all those that took part for their very valuable contributions.

Very briefly, here are the main findings and the outlined recommendations.

Despite challenges encountered in (and inherent to) programme implementation, the stark majority of NAs are very confident in the future achievement of the Erasmus+ programme objectives, both in the field of Education and Training, and of Youth. Apart from one Youth-related objective, half or more of the NAs expect all the objectives to be reached “to a high or very high extent” by the end of the programme period.

The biggest perceived advantages of Erasmus+ by the NAs were
  • the potential for more cross-sectoral cooperation and mutual learning (applicants and NAs) (66.7% of NAs);
  • the streamlined architecture (three Key Actions) and harmonisation of rules and regulations (58.3%);
  • the simplified financial management (unit cost system) and increased budget flexibility (52.8%); and
  • the potential for wider impact (52.8%).

The biggest challenges related to programme implementation were
  • the reduced functionality of IT tools and their sheer number (80.6%);
  • too high administrative complexity and red tape (Programme Guide, procedures, etc.) (75.0%); and
  • too much focus on large-scale projects (smaller applicants disadvantaged) (41.7%).

The NAs acknowledge the strong potential of Erasmus+ for increasing cross-sectoral cooperation, both between applying organisations in different sectors and between sectoral NAs in countries with more than one NA. They do say, however, that a clear definition of “cross-sectoral cooperation” and earmarked funding would help to make the increase really happen as much as hoped for.

The harmonisation of rules and regulations across sectors is welcomed by many NAs, at least to some extent. At the same time, some NAs do warn about the ‘dangers’ of fully succumbing to the one-size-fits-all approach and express concerns about ignoring sector specificities.

Further, it is generally felt that the unit cost system has simplified the financial management of the programme for the NAs. Nevertheless, there are still ‘remnants of the past’ in some countries, where national authorities still require working on a real cost basis, which defies the very logic of the unit cost system. This simplification, however, does not mean that the levels of funding are entirely satisfactory. A large majority of NAs find Key Actions (KA), and especially KA2, severely underfunded. Additionally, some more flexibility would be appreciated by NAs when it comes to KA1, especially the international credit mobility, i.e. the ’Erasmus going global’, action, which is quoted as having stricter rules comparatively speaking.

One of the most welcomed novelties of Erasmus+, the IT tools, were functioning less than optimally in the first two years of the programme, their running being severely affected by too many bugs and inconsistencies. But this seems to have improved and there is currently a higher degree of satisfaction among NAs and applicants with the tools, while there is still room for improvement.

Erasmus+ can boast with more diversity in the types of applicants, namely enterprises, public bodies, NGOs, than its predecessor programme. The downside is, as most NAs report, the tendency for submitting larger projects, and thus the risk of favouring larger applicants, which puts smaller organisations at a disadvantage.

After a bumpy start, not at all unusual for new programmes, NAs find the cooperation with the European Commission much better and effective. On the other side, they find that more communication and exchange with its executive agency, EACEA, would benefit both sides.

On the basis of the feedback received from NAs, we put forward a set of eight recommendations that are meant to smoothen, if adopted, the implementation of the programme in the remaining years of Erasmus+:

1.       Making cross-sectoral cooperation “really happen” 2.       A halt on further harmonisation, with some fine-tuning 3.       More flexibility in the use of the budget 4.       Making room for smaller-size applicants 5.       A formalised cooperation framework with EACEA 6.       Not more, but better and fewer IT tools 7.       Proportional promotion to the funding available 8.       No more change for the sake of change  

For more information, EP study