Students step up pressure on international exchanges

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

Student organizations have delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures calling on the government to start immediate negotiations to join Erasmus+, the European Union’s student exchange programme.

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

Without adequate participation, they argue, international cooperation in education is likely to be threatened in the long term.

Following a 2014 Swiss vote that targeted EU immigration, negotiations on Swiss participation in Erasmus+ were suspended (the country was part of the previous program).

A temporary system has been put in place: the Swiss-European Mobility Program (SEMP). This made Switzerland an Erasmus+ partner country, but offered students more limited opportunities than full membership would. This workaround should remain in place until 2021.

Milestone

Francesco Bee, co-responsible for the Union of Swiss Students,External link said the delivery of 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 parliament has already given the government a clear mandate to start negotiations with the EU. It is time for Switzerland to finally start negotiations to become a full member of the Erasmus+ successor program for 2021-2027,” he told swissinfo.ch by email.

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

Supporters of the petition argue that the government should foster good relations with the EU to participate in the successor scheme 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 initial scheme.

Moreover, as each contract must be concluded individually, it is difficult for Swiss universities to find partner institutions abroad. Some foreign universities – such as Cambridge – no longer conclude exchange agreements with Swiss universities. Others have sharply reduced their quotas of Swiss students.

‘Costs and Benefits’

The government said it was closely following ongoing discussions in the EU on the Erasmus+ follow-on program and would look into the matter of association, “taking careful account of the costs and benefits involved”.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Guy Parmelin said “not all the financial elements were in place yet” for Erasmus+. He previously proposed the fall as the time frame to consider the issue. It would then be too late for Swiss students to join a successor program from the beginning of 2021.

Horizon 2020

After the massive vote on immigration in 2014, the EU also suspended relations on the Horizon 2020 research programme. 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 no proposal for Erasmus+ yet.

End of insertion

Swissuniversities, the umbrella organization, also expressed its displeasureExternal link on the interim solution. Another factor: the increase in bureaucracyExternal link when foreign students arrive, he says.

Education issues continue to be a source of debate. On Tuesday, the Senate approved an update to the law on international exchanges and mobility in the field of education, which calls for a greater focus on 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.

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