Students increase pressure on international exchanges

A 2014 archive photo: an Erasmus stamp from an international university office © Keystone / Christian Beutler

Student organizations handed over a petition with more than 10,000 signatures calling on the government to immediately start negotiations to join Erasmus +, the European Union’s student exchange program.

This content was published on September 23, 2020 – 11:12

Without appropriate participation, they argue, international cooperation in education risks being threatened in the long term.

Following a Swiss vote in 2014 which targeted European immigration, negotiations on Swiss participation in Erasmus + were suspended (the country had been part of the previous program).

An intermediary mechanism has been set up: the Swiss-European Mobility Program (SEMP). This made Switzerland an Erasmus + partner country, but offered students more limited opportunities than a full membership would. This workaround is expected to remain in place until 2021.

Milestone

Francesco Bee, co-head of the Swiss Union of Students,External link said handing over the petition to Bern was an “important step”.

“Participation would have been, in principle, possible again since 2016. But the government is dragging its feet, although the parliament has already given the government a clear mandate to start negotiations with the EU. It is high time that Switzerland finally started negotiations for full membership in the successor program of Erasmus + for 2021-2027, ”he told swissinfo.ch by email.

The petition, which was officially delivered to the Federal Chancellery on Wednesday morning, has the support of a number of student organizations, as well as some parliamentarians. A socially distanced event took place in the square in front of the parliament to mark the stage.

Supporters of the petition argue that the government should foster good relations with the EU to participate in the successor program and that education and mobility – and sufficient funding to participate – must be a priority.

They say the current Swiss solution is insufficient: it focuses more on students and offers fewer opportunities for those undergoing vocational training than the original system.

In addition, since each contract must be concluded individually, it is difficult for Swiss universities to find partner establishments abroad. Some foreign universities – like Cambridge – no longer conclude exchange agreements with Swiss universities. Others have sharply reduced their quotas for Swiss students.

‘Costs and benefits’

The government said it was closely following the ongoing discussions within the EU on the Erasmus + follow-up program and that it would examine the question of the association, “with careful consideration of the costs and benefits involved” .

On Tuesday, the Minister in charge of education, Guy Parmelin, declared that “all the financial elements were not yet in place” for Erasmus +. He had already mentioned the fall as the timetable for examining the issue. It would therefore be too late for Swiss students to join a successor program from the start of 2021.

Horizon 2020

After the 2014 mass immigration vote, the EU also suspended relations on the Horizon 2020 research program. In 2016 Switzerland joined Horizon 2020, but Erasmus + remained excluded.

The Senate is expected to debate Switzerland’s participation for 2021-2027 in the coming weeks, but there is currently no proposal for Erasmus +.

End of insertion

Swissuniversities, the umbrella organization, also expressed its dissatisfactionExternal link on the interim solution. Another factor: increase in administrative formalitiesExternal link when you bring in foreign students, he says.

Education issues continue to be a source of debate. On Tuesday, the Senate approved an update to the Law on International Exchange and Mobility in Education, which calls for more focus outside the EU.

It has already become clear with the new semester that current student exchanges, both for Swiss students going abroad and for foreign students coming to Switzerland, have been strongly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.