With unemployment at historically high levels, the future might look gloomy for Europe’s youth. But this “lost generation” is also the most mobile, multilingual and culturally aware generation that Europe ever had, and as such, the best suited to realise the European dream.
Who does not know someone in their family circle or group of friends who has studied or worked abroad?
The Erasmus programme has already enabled more than three million students to spend a part of their studies abroad. Not only did they come back with a competitive advantage on the European market, but also with a stronger sense of belonging to the European project.
A breath of fresh air to European economies
According to Nicola Filizola, Senior Representative for Europe at garagErasmus, “While there is a huge percentage of unemployment everywhere, one out of three companies cannot find the right profile for their vacancies, that is, internationally-minded people, able to speak several languages and get acquainted to new environments. These are exactly the competencies which Erasmus students possess.”
Two studies done by the Europe-Education-Formation Agency in France have shown that job seekers are more likely to find a job and apprentices are more likely to be recruited at a higher position if they have participated in a mobility programme.
A study carried out in 2012 by the European Youth Forum also highlights the link between the skills gained with Erasmus and the employability level. As Allan Päll, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum underlines: “Erasmus students have the opportunity to gain many skills such as flexibility and good communication, which clearly increase their employability”.
Of course, it is not just the Erasmus alumni but the whole of Europe that benefits from these gained competencies. At a time when markets are globalising and new economic powers are arising, such a workforce can only help increase Europe’s competitiveness by enhancing its innovation ability and market access.
A European identity in the making
Needless to say, the Erasmus programme was also seen from its inception as a fundamental tool to create a sense of European belonging and identity.
According to Antoine Godbert, Director of the Europe-Education-Formation Agency, “Erasmus alumni do not fear -or less- Europe anymore. They do not deny the problems existing in other countries, but they better understand them and this drives away a lot of prejudices.”
This is all the more true taking into consideration that the Erasmus is a life-long experience, as Erasmus alumni, for example, may later visit their friends around Europe, welcome foreigners in their own university or connect with former Erasmus students to increase their future opportunities. The social interaction between Erasmus alumni of different origin never ends and the experience thus becomes an ongoing process of Europeanisation.
As Nicola Filizola puts it: “This is the first truly European generation of citizens. They will be the future generation explaining, in the European Parliament or in national politics, why Europe is great.”
Erasmus for all
For the European dream to come true, youth mobility and the Erasmus programme in particular should be accessible to the majority of young Europeans.
Many students do not have access to the scholarships or cannot afford the expenses of a year abroad even with these scholarships. In addition, in some places the Erasmus year is still unknown or considered as a waste of time. In a recent survey conducted by TNS Sofres in France, one third of the respondents do not believe participation in the programme assures higher employability.
But even if the Erasmus generation still represents a minority of Europeans, the change of mentality and practices among Europe’s youth is under way. As future employers, they will be more inclined to recruit foreigners. As entrepreneurs, they are more likely to venture into new markets. As parents, they will encourage their children to study abroad. And as citizens, they will more likely support the European project.
This post is an extract from an article published in issue 2 of The New European, UNITEE’s new magazine, dedicated to analysing the European Dream and the ways to revive it. The complete online version can be read for free here.