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The SPHERE consortium has recently finalised a report contracted by the European Commission which looks into the implementation of EC policies under Key Action 107 specifically with regards to disadvantaged students. Titled Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility – a study of the mobility of disadvantaged students from Partner countries, the study focuses on outgoing students from partner countries in 1) the Eastern Partnership 2) South-Mediterranean and 3) the Western Balkans, and explores how much Partner Countries and institutions in active partnerships are taking into account the inclusion of disadvantaged students in their mobility procedures. The findings are based on monitoring reports by National Erasmus+ Offices (NEOs), online surveys of national points (NEOs and national agencies - NAs) and ICM students and alumni, online interviews with a wide range of stakeholders from Programme and Partner Countries and focus groups with NEOs and experts in partner countries (Higher Education Reform Experts – HEREs).
The findings point to inconsistencies in data collection across the regions, in selection processes, varying practices and national policies as well as a diverging understanding of disadvantage or willingness to introduce quotas for disadvantaged students. For example, non-discrimination legislation across Partner Countries is first of all, very little in line with the Erasmus+ definition of disadvantage and secondly, definitions vary largely across the countries. Neither is disadvantage as a criterion taken much into consideration in the selection processes. From the students’ perspective, being asked to declare any eligible disadvantage would be feasible, but they expressed hesitance to self-identify as disadvantaged due to possible stigmatisation. Nevertheless, the overall agreement exists when it comes to the need to address the obstacles to mobility caused by financial and logistic matters – upfront costs burdening students and frequent delays in receiving Erasmus grants. At the same time, there seems to be little awareness or willingness among higher education institutions (HEIs) concerning the use of Organisational Support funding for more inclusive mobility. There are some examples of affirmative action programmes at HEIs, sometimes also at national level, but without evidence of whether these are applied under the ICM mobility framework.
The report concludes that disadvantaged students from the three partner regions are losing out on the mobility opportunities due to insufficient consideration given to the matter of inclusion and thus, that ICM does not seem to effectively and significantly promote the mobility of disadvantaged students. The research team puts forward a number of recommendations, from awareness raising to changes in national measures and monitoring, better information and communication amongst actors at various levels, all of which can be found in the report here.