Erasmus sounds universal and is almost part of everyday language. While many people imagine a study trip to a foreign university, few know that behind this name, lies a system and network of cooperation and mobility that’s unique and irreplaceable in Europe.

Endless opportunities for growth

Its potential for the Swiss education system and its international attractiveness is massive.Why? International cooperation means access to networks and collaborative structures which enhance the education system and contribute to its development, attractiveness and level of excellence. Giving education an international dimension provides stakeholders at every level with significant value added – the students, the institutions and the education system as a whole.

While the momentum recently observed in the field of mobility and international cooperation has been curbed by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. The importance of exchange, mutual understanding and openness to the world is clearer than ever.

A different path

Switzerland has not been associated with Erasmus+ since 2014. The Swiss Programme for Erasmus+ was introduced at short notice to replace mobility activities in higher education, vocational, school, adult education and extracurricular youth work. This solution has facilitated the development of certain activities, while nevertheless limiting the possibilities for international cooperation. Today, this limitation penalises stakeholders in the education system and places Switzerland in jeopardy of becoming marginalised.

And especially the Higher Education Institutions (Universities, Universities of Applied Sciences and Universities of Teacher Education). In this field, the Erasmus+ programme provides an invaluable framework within which universities from 34 countries create joint educational and research initiatives, promote innovation in teaching and learning, and carry out peer learning activities. The programme has been substantially shaping the European Higher Education Area for years and was significantly expanded in 2017 with the establishment of “European Universities”. Such an initiative provides new and transformative systemic impetus for European higher education and enhances the competitiveness of the entire European Higher Education Area.

Collaboration and strength

Strategic networks shape the future university landscape. Student and staff mobility cements the intense cooperation between universities and is firmly anchored in the programme. Both in the current programme generation 2014-2020 and in the coming period 2021-2027, however, the promotion of systematic and strategic cooperation comes to the fore as a clear response to the needs of universities. In future, cross-border cooperation is to take place with a small number of high-quality partnerships between higher education institutions. This will strengthen university networks and enable more comprehensive cooperation across subjects, departments, education and research. Swiss institutions are in the midst of this development, but are dependent on access to important networks, which is linked to participation in international education and research programmes.

A limited approach?

The Swiss solution has its limits and marginalises Switzerland. Without an association with Erasmus+, Switzerland has only limited opportunities to participate and its involvement in shaping the European Higher Education Area is very restricted. A clear indication of this is the low level of participation of Swiss institutions in multilateral Erasmus+ cooperation in the years 2014-2019: Austria with 174 and Switzerland with 24 projects.

The growing gap

The Swiss Programme for Erasmus+ has worked in the short term, but the gap with Europe is widening. The effects of non-association and the limited possibilities of the Swiss solution are becoming apparent. The growth in mobility figures has generally slowed, in some areas the figures have slumped, and programme maintenance has become more complex. As a comparison, Austria records 26% more mobility under Erasmus+. The planned digitisation of the Erasmus+ programme administration will further increase the gap.

The digitisation of Erasmus+ has been progressing rapidly since 2014.The “European Student Card Initiative” brings together all initiatives aimed at digitising the administrative processes of programme administration. These include the Erasmus+-funded cooperation projects for the digitisation of programme administration, such as Erasmus Without Paper (EWP), but also the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) projects, which ensure the online authentication of students.

The digitisation of the Erasmus+ administration is the great revolution of the next generation of programmes and a game changer.

If Switzerland stands apart, this increases the risk of Swiss institutions being marginalised and additionally excludes them.

With regard to Erasmus+, the Federal Council will carry out a careful analysis during the second half of the year, on the basis of which it will define the parameters of a possible negotiation mandate for association with the follow-up programme to Erasmus+.