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The European Union´s Erasmus programme

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 2004

Erasmus is the first major European programme for higher education to promote student and teacher movement and mobility in order to increase cultural and linguistic exchange across the European Union's university population. Erasmus sets out to foster European integration by using one of the cornerstones of any modern society, education.

The Erasmus programme, which thirty countries and 2,000 universities now participate in, has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 1987. To date, almost two million students have benefited from this university-level grant, named after Erasmus, the humanist from Rotterdam (1485-1536) and tireless opponent of dogmatism who lived in different parts of Europe as part of his quest for knowledge and experience.

The aim of the Erasmus programme is to support European activities in higher education and to encourage the interchange of lecturers and undergraduates. It also sets out to raise awareness of European citizenship by organising a form of mobility whereby part of a studies programme can be taken in any of the 28 member states of the European Union or one of the members of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). The programme's ever-broadening horizons is highlighted by the participation from 1998-99 onwards of the twelve countries who were erstwhile candidates to join the EEC (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Rumania, Slovakia, Slovenia. Recognition of the Erasmus study period is provided by the European Course Credit Transfer System, a kind of international tender with which to validate studies abroad at a home university.

The programme has progressed outstandingly since its birth, leading to further EEC educational activities under the aegis of the Socrates programme, which covers all levels of education. 3,244 students participated in the programme in its first school year (1987-1988). For the 2002-2003 school year, a total of 123, 957 students benefited from the grant, a 7% increase on the previous year's figures. In all, 1,090,560 students took part in the programme between 1986 and 2003. The grants have also been warmly welcomed in the ten countries that recently joined the EEC. Over the last school year, when they were still candidates, 16,340 if the 123,957 undergraduates were from these states or from the two remaining candidates, Bulgaria and Rumania. The Erasmus programme also facilitates lecturer mobility. 17,000 teachers were given grants to round off their education abroad between the 1997-1998 and 2002-2003 school years.

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