If we look into the cultural article of the Treaty, there is still a lot of potential for action, but too little has been accomplished so far. And we should not forget the regions of Europe. That would be my dream too: regions becoming real actors, because that engages the grassroots again in the integration process, especially as many regions are directly responsible for their cultural policy”.
“I did my Degree in Classics and Modern Languages in Wales and I spent one year teaching in France. So I experienced at first hand the idea of the year abroad as an integral part of my degree programme. I felt it should be an important enrichment for students of every discipline. This has always coloured my experience and it was the beginning of my
wider European interest.
In 1973 I came to the European Commission as its first head of Department for Education and Youth. By then there was some nervousness concerning the involvement of the European Community in these areas. The first set of proposals got through in 1976: including the launch of a project of joint study programmes in higher education. I had a clear policy vision for Erasmus that was not simply about mobility. I conceived of Erasmus as embedding a European teaching and learning perspective in the curricula of universities for which mobility and exchange were instruments.
In those times exchange in Europe was very limited, involving mostly France, the UK and Germany through bilateral schemes. So for the other countries it was truly new territory. And it took ten years of running experimentally to gain the confidence of universities and governments before the first full Erasmus scheme was launched. The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) was chosen to support the Commission in the detailed animation, management and networking that would make Erasmus come alive.
The ECF used the Institute of Education in Paris, one of its satellite centres, to carry out the work. My idea was that this experience would give an added dimension to the student’s curriculum vitae, also increasing his or her employability. But I had another dream: if these programmes could go on generation after generation, we would develop, in all corners of society, future leaders who had a European experience and commitment.
I wanted Europe to be made by grassroots-level involvement and commitment – the bottomup approach. What was clever about Erasmus was that the engagement was decentralised: it was up to the individual university to decide whether or not to participate. One of the difficulties of the Erasmus programme is that the amount of money for the individual student has not necessarily been enough. It was designed to act as a catalyst for national and local authorities to add complementary financial resources. The overall budget has been gradually increasing through the years and that has allowed more students to be involved. The fact that over a million students have participated in the Erasmus student mobility programme and that we now have Erasmus offices in almost every university in Europe is a fantastic accomplishment.
The successful experimentation with the credit transfer scheme (ECTS) and the credibility brought by Erasmus were the foundation stones for the Bologna process. I am very excited by the prospect of this European process going from strength to strength, but I am also keen to see more investment in the real platform for lifelong learning, which is early childhood. So I would like to see more leverage on European funding in this sector. And I would like to provide more opportunities of a European experience for young people who are going through vocational education, many of whom are the ones who have difficulty in their careers.
I would also like to see structured cooperation at pre-university level, so that we create a sense of shared learning opportunities and stimulate young people to have a European perspective to the issues they are addressing. There are still fears of standardisation though. I am not essentially worried, since there is no danger of the EU institutions seeking to standardise or harmonise in this field. The design of European cooperation should be very transparent and connected to the educational systems, so that they are themselves actively involved in the European decision-making. I believe that educational cooperation is a powerful instrument. I would like to engage the educational and cultural sectors as part of the challenge of building the bottom-up approach to making European integration work for the benefit of citizens. Culture needs to be given a higher profile by creating a favourable environment, which involves engaging this dimension within countries as well as focusing on the European level.
The challenge for the next decade is to have the determination to push for the full implementation of what is already in the Treaty both for education and culture. If we look into the cultural article of the Treaty, there is still a lot of potential for action, but too little has been accomplished so far. And we should not forget the regions of Europe. That would be my dream too: regions becoming real actors, because that engages the grassroots again in the integration process, especially as many regions are directly responsible for their cultural policy”.
Hywel Ceri Jones: ECF Board Member 1999 to 2006; former Chairman of the European Policy Centre’s Governing Board; Director of the Network of European Foundations (NEF); former director of the Commission’s Task Force for Education, Youth and Human Resources; former acting Director-General for Education and Youth and Director- General for Employment and Social Affairs, the European Commission.
Uit : ECF-newsletter, April 2007