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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Learning mobility can help to fight the crisis

Conference on the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus programme

Copenhagen, 9 May 2012

Your Royal Highness,

Minister Østergaard,

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

I am very happy to join her Royal Highness Princess Marie in welcoming you to this event. Today we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus programme, its achievements and its future. I would like to thank the Danish Presidency for their support in organising this conference, and all of you for being here with us.

Twenty-five years' activity is a landmark well worth celebrating. But what makes Erasmus special is more than its longevity. It is truly a remarkable success story of the European Union.

By making student mobility a reality, no other EU programme has been as effective in uniting young Europeans across nations. Over the years, it has become a tangible symbol of the impact and the added-value of European programmes.

Let's take a moment to consider Europe in 1987, when the Erasmus programme was launched.

Our continent was still divided into two political blocs. It was not so easy for people to work or study abroad, even within the EU. We had no common currency, and no common market. At the same time, though, it was an optimistic and forward-looking time, a new beginning for the European project, under the impulse of several ambitious integration initiatives.

The Erasmus programme was set up as a response to the challenges of those times. The free flow of goods would be complemented by the free flow of knowledge. The common economic space would be strengthened by a new generation of Europe-minded, educated young people.

Erasmus students were pioneers in a Europe where it was still relatively unusual to study abroad. Each Erasmus exchange played a small but important role in bringing European states and peoples closer together.

This is not surprising: young people across the world are often pioneers of change. Indeed, young people were instrumental in bringing about change in Cold War Europe, just as today they are a driving force for political reform in the Arab Spring countries.

Twenty-five years on, Europe is a very different place, politically, socially and economically. New challenges have replaced the old ones – youth employment, just to mention the most pressing of them – but the Erasmus programme continues to be part of the solution.

Today Europe operates under increased global competition. The recent crisis has shown that we must become more creative, more innovative and more entrepreneurial. We need a workforce that has the necessary, high-level skills. This is the challenge Europe is facing.

And learning mobility can contribute to tackling it. By enabling students to spend a period studying or working abroad, Erasmus provides them with more than what is for many the experience of a lifetime. It teaches them a foreign language, it hones their communication skills, it improves their interpersonal and intercultural abilities. And we know that these are all skills that employers value greatly.

And students seem to share our belief: for the past academic year [2010/11], we really have achieved very encouraging figures with the Erasmus programme. Many of the participants are here today. I will present the results later this morning. Let me just say that our goal of three million Erasmus students is well within reach.

Let me turn for one moment to our Erasmus Ambassadors.

When we met in Brussels in January to launch the Erasmus 25th anniversary year, I thanked all of you for your past and future contribution to making this programme a success.

Now, from what I have seen, the launch event proved a source of inspiration to help define and share your vision for the future; to identify the new challenges that the Erasmus programme will need to face up to. That vision is set forth in the Erasmus Ambassadors' Manifesto that you will present later this morning.

I would just like to say that now is the right time to translate this vision into action, with the help of the discussions you will be having today with all the participants. Now it is important to look together at how the future Erasmus for All programme can help to turn your vision into reality. Your input is essential to ensure that the future programme provides the right support to address current and future challenges in education and training.

The EU already has a clear blueprint for action, the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs. All future programmes will be geared towards achieving its objectives of smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. This includes of course our learning mobility programmes.

Bearing in mind that we need to invest in skills and qualifications, we are proposing a very ambitious new programme. We have reached a key point in the negotiations, and I would like to thank the Danish Presidency for its very constructive engagement. [proposed budget 19.5 billion EUR for 2014-20, i.e. 70% increase].

Erasmus for All will expand what we currently do via the Lifelong Learning Programme and focus strongly on support for three types of activities: learning mobility, policy cooperation and educational partnerships and exchanges.

We want as many as 5 million people, almost double the number now, to have the chance to study or train abroad with a grant from this new programme.

Amongst the many improvements we have foreseen is a better recognition of what students have learned on their Erasmus period by their sending and hosting institutions. Yesterday I had the privilege of awarding 72 higher education institutions with labels recognising their exemplary use of ECTS and Diploma Supplement, two European instruments that make the outcomes of teaching and learning more transparent and facilitate the recognition of studies and qualifications. The representatives of these label holders are among us today. You are the models for all the others to follow. I also want to mention the staff members whose efforts to teach in a foreign university should also be properly recognised.

We also want Erasmus to ensure equal access to all those who wish to participate and are qualified to do so, in particular groups who are underrepresented now. For students from less privileged backgrounds in particular, a learning or traineeship experience in a different country is even more beneficial and can serve as an eye-opener with long-term effects – in other words, Erasmus really can open minds and change lives.

I spoke earlier of today's most pressing challenges, and I mentioned youth unemployment. There is no doubt that we need to invest more in the education and training of our young people. We need to give them the right tools to succeed. This is why the Commission has proposed a Youth Opportunities Initiative, to boost the number of transnational traineeships in companies to give young people the necessary sector-specific, transversal and entrepreneurial skills to prosper in today's labour market and to be able to adapt to the changing requirements of the workplaces of tomorrow. With its emphasis on learning, working and training mobility, here too Erasmus for All can make a decisive contribution.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We live in a world in constant transformation: our societies become more and more complex and diverse; our workplaces are a permanent work-in-progress. Our young people have to cope with increasingly complex tasks and constant change. The jobs of today – and even more those of tomorrow – call for new mind-sets and attitudes.

On a personal level, Erasmus makes people more open, more confident and better prepared to face the unknown. On a more general level, the international experience students and staff bring back home also contributes to making their own higher education institutions become more modern.

So our challenge here today is to come up with ideas that will help us do even better in the future, especially in those areas where there is room for improvement - for instance, how to ensure equal access and full recognition of qualifications; how to enhance staff mobility and its positive impact on the modernization of higher education; how to reach out to neighbouring countries - and of course how to strengthen the links between education and the world of work.

Before I conclude, I would like to congratulate all of you who have been involved in the Erasmus programme in these past 25 years. You have really achieved some impressive results, and I look forward to the progress we will continue to make together in the future.

I wish you a successful Erasmus conference.

Thank you.

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