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Erasmus, the european mobility programme that has allowed more than 3 million students to go abroad for an exchange, has become incredibly popular since its launch in 1987. After 27 years of existence, measuring its impact on student’s professional careers and universities’ internationalisation strategies has been the main purpose of the recently released Erasmus Impact Study – effects of mobility on the skills and employability of the students and the internationalisation of higher education institutions. This study, commissioned by the European Commission, combines quantitative and qualitative methods, relying on online surveys carried out in 34 countries (EU member states, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey) interviewing 75 000 students and alumni, 5 000 staff, 1 000 higher education institutions and 650 employers.
Concerning employability, findings look very promising at first sight. Particularly successful resulted the ‘Erasmus work placement’, as it provided a job offer for 1 in 3 students in the company where they did their traineeship, and it additionally inspired almost 1 in 10 students to start their own company. In general, the study confirmed that international mobility reduces significantly the chances to be long term-unemployed: five years after graduation, the unemployment rate of mobile students is 23% lower than that of those not going abroad. However, one might wonder whether this is exclusively the Erasmus effect or rather the impact of international mobility in a broader sense. As the previous study The professional value of Erasmus mobility pointed out (see ACA newsletter - Education Europe, June 2009), while general data on mobile students show a clear advantage compared with non-mobile students, looking at the specific Erasmus group it was noticed a trend of decreasing career impact of the Erasmus experience over time. The declining advantage of Erasmus students in access to jobs can be explained with the general progress in internationalisation of higher education, meaning that as many other opportunities are starting to be available beyond Erasmus, the latter loses its exceptionability. The door to explore such a phenomenon is left open as the latest study is not shading light on the matter.
In our opinion, some more interesting findings concern the Erasmus impact on international strategies of higher education institutions. On this regard, the Programme proves to have a clear role in encouraging the internationalisation of universities. In fact, a majority of higher education institutions consider Erasmus to be the most important strategic asset for their international profile, and this element becomes even more relevant in the case of new or private universities. From a qualitative point of view and with regard to the outreach, the impact of international mobility of academic staff seems to be higher than that of students, because it affects more areas of international cooperation with other higher education institutions, such as improving collaboration with partners, facilititating multilateral projects and research, and encouraging the set up of joint courses.