Prague, 3 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union this year for the first time is extending its university exchange program, called "Erasmus," to five countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
The European Executive Commission in Brussels has given (on May 25) formal approval for a total of 149 Central and East European institutions of higher learning to participate in Erasmus, involving travel to Western Europe by more than 8,000 students and teachers. Participating are Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.
Under the program, students and teachers will be spending study periods of from 10 days to one year at universities in EU countries as diverse as Italy and Britain, Portugal and Germany. Their studies will range across languages, science, social studies, economics and other areas.
A spokesman for the Erasmus program, Massimo Gaudina, told RFE/RL from Brussels that plans are also in hand to extend Erasmus by the 1999/2000 academic year to the Baltic republics Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as to Slovenia. Gaudina advised interested students in those countries to keep in touch with developments through the international relations office at their university, or to ask teachers.
The transition countries are joining Erasmus at a time when enthusiasm for the program is running high. This year in total some 200,000 people will be participating, from more than 1,600 institutions. The EU Executive Commission has vastly expanded the budget available to fund Erasmus, and this now stands at over $125 million for this year.
Participating students and teachers will receive financial support for their studies, with the exact level of that support to be decided by the Erasmus agency established in each participating country.
For the organizers of Erasmus, the aim of the program is twofold -- to improve the quality of education across Europe through interchange of experience and ideas, and in addition to add extra strands to European integration. The program's Deputy Director, Angelique Verli, explains the philosophy behind the program:
She says that through cooperation you improve quality; and that's the main objective, to improve the quality. But also since human beings are involved, the aim is to allow these human beings to develop a European dimension, to see other countries, to speak other languages, to meet people, to understand and communicate with them, and to share. As freedom of movement of workers already exists in the EU, the same should apply for teachers, but that is not very easy in practical terms. Through the cooperation created by the Erasmus program, and the mobility it fosters between academics and students, the program allows those to move who wish to do so.
Verli says the Erasmus organizers are satisfied with the start made to eastern participation in the program. She said the easterners were cautious at first, wanting to ensure that the people they were planning to send would be at the same level as those at the host institutions. She described the quality of the eastern applicants as being quite good. She also said the easterners had made an "extraordinarily" good start, when one compared it with the start made in the 1980s by the EU states among themselves.
Institutes of higher learning which are now participating in the scheme include, in Romania, the University and the Polytechnic of Bucharest, the Devestdin University at Timisoara, and the Transylvania University at Brasov. In Slovakia, they include the Komenskeho University in Bratislava, and the Vysoka Skola Vytvarnych Umeni. In the Czech Republic they include Brno's Masaryk and Palacky-Technical Universities, the West Bohemian University at Plzen and the Charles and Technical Universities in Prague.