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International collaboration through higher education

Universities are bracing themselves for another busy start to the year. People have had time to digest the previous year’s results and are attentively looking at what is happening around registrations at universities and universities of technology, also on post-graduate level.

In keeping with creating an enabling environment for students, the European Union (EU) established a number of programmes that provide opportunities for international co-operation in higher education, the most notable of which is the Erasmus Mundus Programme. It provides scholarships and mobility grants to South African master’s and doctoral students, as well as to university staff, to study or engage in research within the EU.

“Erasmus Mundus is part of a bigger picture of EU-SA relationships in the field of higher education and training, which are strengthening year after year and are part of a strong and rich strategic partnership between the EU and South Africa. Erasmus Mundus, and Erasmus +, embody opportunities to address internationalisation of higher education and more broadly globalisation. Indeed, globalisation and the move towards knowledge-based economies have necessitated a new level of international collaboration through higher education,” says ambassador Roeland van de Geer, head of the EU Delegation to South Africa.

The Erasmus programme has been the flagship programme for student mobility in the EU for many years, with about three million beneficiaries, but it is relatively new in South Africa, having been introduced five years ago.

To date, 537 South Africans have benefitted from the programme that sees them given an opportunity to study at any of the participating universities across EU Member States. Students range from master’s to doctoral candidates, with staff members also given the opportunity to lecture or research in Europe for a few months.

Between 2010 and 2014, the EU allocated €22-million (approximately R300-million) to support South African beneficiaries of Erasmus Mundus going to study, research or teach in Europe. For the 2014 to 2020 period, the EU has allocated a further €36.7-million (about R500-million) to the Erasmus+ programme which will succeed Erasmus Mundus actions. These scholarships cover return flights, medical insurance, tuition fees and a monthly stipend for the duration of the stay of study, teaching or researching in Europe.

Creating awareness

“One of the key aspects of the bursary programme is to give South African students the opportunity to study abroad. As the EU, we have the financial obligation to commit resources to create opportunities to grow the programme all the time. We want to show local universities and students that there are ways to go abroad and experience different cultures. Already, we have seen the programme grow in recent years from an initial slow start to one that is proving to be very popular amongst participating universities,” adds Brutus Malada, officer in charge of higher education at the EU Delegation.

For its part, the EU Delegation in South Africa has been conducting various roadshows throughout the country to increase awareness of the bursary programme. Part of this is the annual Study in Europe Fair that will take place at the University of Pretoria on February 18 and 19 2015.

During this fair, the EU Delegation invites the EU Member States to come and promote study and scholarship opportunities available in their countries. They also invite students to attend and experience some of the discussions taking place and engender a sense of excitement around what it means to study abroad.

Christophe Larose, head of social and governance sectors at the EU Delegation, says that Erasmus is not a standard scholarship programme as it creates relationships that benefit students and links universities together.

“This is why events like the fair are important as it gives students the opportunity to come and see for themselves what it entails. We have seen them get very motivated once they talk to someone who has already done it and get insights from them on the experience. Although some students are concerned about the language barrier in a few of the countries, we have seen South African students embracing the cultural experience and learning the language very quickly. So the Erasmus programme not only creates new skills but it also gives South African students more confidence when they return,” says Larose.

Putting the spotlight on Erasmus +

With this year being the last year of Erasmus Mundus, the spotlight will now be cast on the new Erasmus+ programme in which the EU has allocated €36.7-million (about R500-million) to the benefit of South Africa. The new programme will provide support to both individuals and institutions. While it builds on the successes of the Erasmus Mundus, the new programme is designed to support education, training, youth, and sport. It provides funding for programmes, projects, and scholarships and fosters both co-operation among EU countries and EU and other international partners.

In South Africa it will have a specific focus on capacity building for institutions and will support credit mobility, degree mobility through Erasmus master’s courses, as well as staff mobility.

The focus on capacity building aims to support the modernisation, accessibility and internationalisation of higher education. Higher education institutions can apply for funding for joint projects and structural projects to develop, modernise and disseminate new curricula, teaching methods and materials, as well as to enhance quality assurance and governance of higher education institutions.

Credit mobility scholarships enable students to study up to 12 months abroad at the host university, ensuring that all grades and credits obtained at bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral level are recognised by the home university.

The programme also offers scholarships to cover full Erasmus master’s degree studies lasting up to two years. The Erasmus master’s degree programme enables students to acquire either joint, double or multiple degrees from participating universities.

The programme will select 350 master’s courses for the 2015 to 2020 period and is expected to fund 25 000 students and staff from across the globe.

Erasmus Mundus in South Africa: By the numbers

Working in close co-operation with the department of higher education and training, we have made provision for the programme to pay attention to equity and redress, to favour the participation of previously disadvantaged individuals, and historically disadvantaged institutions.

“We have also made a requirement for the participating consortia to demonstrate their strategies to address gender balance and diversity, and to ensure the participation of historically disadvantaged institutions and universities of technology.

“Over time we have seen increased participation by students from previously disadvantaged background and from historically disadvantaged institutions,” says Christophe Larose, head of social and governance sec- tors at the EU Delegation.

“The programme has, to some degree, contributed to the strengthening of international offices at most of the participating universities. This is one of the institutional impacts the Erasmus Mundus programme has had. We expect even greater impact through international collaboration in the years ahead as we proceed with the implementation of Erasmus +” adds Brutus Malada, officer in charge of higher education at the EU Delegation.

How Erasmus Mundus works

The EU publishes a call for proposals that see groups of higher education institutions around the EU and South Africa forming different consortia and applying for funding. Grants are then awarded to the winning consortium and distributed between the member universities. The selection of beneficiaries is done by the selected consortia after the publication of calls for scholarships.

Applications for scholarships for 2015 are now open and will be closing on March 15. For more information visit: http:// eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ south_africa

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