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20 years of the Erasmus Mundus: Interview with EMA President

The Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association's Editorial Team sat down with Dr Ashiqur Rahman, EMA's President to reflect on the 20th Anniversary of the Erasmus Mundus programme and its future. 

Participants of the Erasmus Mundus 20th Anniversary Conference pose together for a group shot in the conference's venue.
Copyright: European Commission

EMA Editorial Team: Good afternoon, Dr Rahman. Thank you for joining us to discuss the 20-years of the Erasmus Mundus programme and its future. We would like to start with a broad overview of Erasmus Mundus. How would you summarize its journey over the past two decades?

EMA President: Good afternoon, and thank you for having me. Erasmus Mundus has come a long way since its inception in 2004. Over the last 20 years, the programme has significantly consolidated in strategic, financial, and action-oriented terms. Initially, it focused on broad higher education cooperation but has increasingly concentrated on Master’s level education in recent programme periods (2014-2020 and 2021-2027). This focus has allowed Erasmus Mundus to shape and adapt to higher education policy priorities at both the EU and wider European levels. The programme's budget has also grown substantially, from EUR 430 million in the early years to an expected EUR 1 billion for 2021-2027, demonstrating its increasing importance and impact.

Copyright: European Commission

EMA Editorial Team: The growth is quite impressive indeed. How has Erasmus Mundus impacted institutional participation at the Master’s level?

EMA President: Since its inception, Erasmus Mundus has funded 585 Master’s projects, covering 349 unique programmes, involving nearly 10,000 instances of institutional participation from 140 countries. About 70% of these participations were by institutions from Erasmus+ associated countries. Higher education institutions (HEIs) accounted for over half of all participations, with significant involvement from countries like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. Non-associated countries, particularly the UK, USA, Brazil, China, and India, have also been very active, highlighting the programme's global reach. This extensive participation underscores the programme’s success in fostering international cooperation and enhancing the European Union’s educational attractiveness globally.

EMA Editorial Team: Considering such a broad and diverse engagement, what has been the impact at institutional levels?

EMA President: The impact of Erasmus Mundus at the institutional level has been profound. The programme has not only attracted top-tier international students and forged new partnerships but has also significantly boosted institutional visibility and reputation within Europe. Institutions have reported improvements in international cooperation, learning and teaching quality, and administrative processes. This impact is especially pronounced at smaller HEIs and at departmental levels, where Erasmus Mundus has served as a crucial mechanism for achieving academic excellence and furthering internationalisation.

EMA Editorial Team: Let's focus on the impact for the participants. How do you think has the programme influenced students and alumni?

EMA's President, Dr Ashiqur Rahman at EMA's 17th General Assembly in Lisbon, Portugal in 2023.

EMA President: The numbers related to the student impact are also quite significant. Erasmus Mundus has directly supported over 34,000 Master’s level scholarship holders from 179 countries, leading to more than 111,000 mobility stays at partner institutions. Additionally, over 13,000 non-scholarship holders have enrolled in EM Master’s programmes. The programme has been particularly successful in attracting students from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and other regions. According to the Graduate Impact Surveys, graduates consistently report high levels of satisfaction, enhanced intercultural competencies, improved career prospects, personal growth, and deeper subject-matter expertise. A notable number of graduates remain in Europe after completing their studies, contributing to academic communities, local and regional economies, and becoming bridges for collaboration with their home countries.

EMA Editorial Team: It is clear that Erasmus Mundus has had a substantial impact at an individual and institutional level. What about its broader effects at national, European, and global levels?

EMA President: At the European level, Erasmus Mundus has significantly contributed to the Bologna Process and the development of the European Education Area. Nationally, it has sparked debates and reforms in areas like tuition fees, language requirements, and grant management. Globally, the programme has engaged institutions from 108 countries, fostering international partnerships and student mobility. The UK, USA, Japan, Brazil, China, Canada, and Australia have been key non-associated countries hosting many Erasmus Mundus scholarship holders. These broader effects highlight the programme's role in shaping knowledge exchange in higher education policies and practices worldwide.

Copyright: European Commission

EMA Editorial Team:  As we look to the future, what are some potential pathways for Erasmus Mundus moving forward?

EMA President: Moving forward, Erasmus Mundus could explore several pathways. Strengthening the balance between its European and global dimensions, considering pilot openings for Bachelor’s and PhD levels, and clarifying the status and funding links between Erasmus Mundus-branded degrees and the European degree label are some possibilities. Additionally, integrating digital learning components and refining the overall funding model to further enhance sustainability and strategic impact could be considered. These pathways aim to build on the programme’s current strengths while addressing emerging needs and opportunities in the higher education landscape.

EMA Editorial Team:  One last question: how can the Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association (EMA AISBL) support the future of the Erasmus Mundus programme?

EMA President: The Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association (EMA AISBL) can play a pivotal role in supporting the future of the Erasmus Mundus programme. EMA can act as a bridge between current students, alumni, and programme coordinators, providing valuable feedback and insights to enhance programme design and implementation. By leveraging the extensive network of alumni, EMA can facilitate mentorship and career development opportunities for current students. Additionally, EMA can help promote the programme globally, attract top-tier talent, and support initiatives that foster sustainability and continuous improvement of the Erasmus Mundus programme. The collective experiences and advocacy of EMA members can also inform policy recommendations and contribute to the programme's strategic direction.

EMA Editorial Team: Thank you, Dr Rahman, for sharing these insights with us. It is exciting to see how Erasmus Mundus has evolved, the potential directions it could take in the future, and EMA’s role in its development.

EMA President: Thank you. It has been a pleasure discussing the remarkable journey of Erasmus Mundus and its future prospects. We look forward to continuing to support and enhance international higher education through this vital programme.

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