“Going to Europe to learn is the start of your upturn – I am advising you, thus: take Erasmus Plus!”

Internationalisation Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for adult education Erasmus+ for vocational education Erasmus+ for higher education Erasmus+ for youth work Erasmus+ for general education Erasmus+: Sport EU youth programmes European Solidarity Corps Digitalisation International mobility Internationalisation Quality and development Sustainable development Equality and engagement
This is how the Plussaa EU-ohjelmista (‘Benefitting from EU programmes’) event at Tampere Hall on 7 November 2023 began when rhyme expert Headmaster, the principal of Ylä-Savo Music Institute, got the microphone. The day’s agenda was to gather together project actors to discuss the successes and development areas in the Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps programmes now that the programming period is half-way.
Plussaa EU-ohjelmista -tapahtuman yleisöä ja esiintymislava.

The thought-provoking speeches given in the Plussaa EU-ohjelmista event dealt with the priorities and the current situation of the EU programmes and the speakers described a variety of future visions. After the speeches, the participants were able to share and record their own experiences and wishes in sector-specific mid-term evaluation workshops. The day culminated in parallel sessions themed with the priorities of the EU programmes.

The Erasmus+ programme is a Europe-wide success story, but in what direction is the programme developing now?

Minister of Science and Culture Sari Multala highlighted all the horizontal priorities of this programming period: inclusion and diversity, digital transformation, environmental responsibility and active citizenship. These four areas provided the themes not only for the parallel afternoon sessions, but also for all project activities and cooperation in both programmes. Multala therefore hoped to see Finland participate more actively in the development of these priorities and in the development of the programmes in the future in general so that we would be able to have more say on their future developments.

More money is flowing to the EU programmes, but how can the high level of impact be maintained?

Mika Saarinen, Head of Unit at the Finnish National Agency, reminded the listeners that the funding of the Erasmus+ programme will increase by 80 per cent compared with the previous programming period and the annual budget will continue to grow in the following years. As a result of the strengthening resources, the actions have also expanded and developed, which is visible in the European Universities and Teacher Academies actions, Centres of Vocational Excellence, DiscoverEU and the extension of global cooperation. 

In addition to the opening new opportunities, Saarinen also emphasised the importance of a strategic approach, as we still cannot afford to be wasteful. As an example, the participants were shown a video on the Muotiala day-care centre, which won the European Innovative Teaching Award this year with its insightful future-oriented project.

The world changes, but what if we chose a more positive option instead of dystopias?

Jukka Vahti, Project Director at Sitra, encouraged the participants to reflect on what a good tomorrow would be like for Finland, for democracy and especially for young people. The starting point for the chain of thoughts is the paradox of participation, as while trust in institutions is considered high in our country, confidence in one's own opportunities to influence matters has weakened. This is not surprising as such when the media space is occupied by the digital power struggle, environmental problems, the weakening economy, challenges to wellbeing and the struggle for democracy. 

According to Vahti, artificial intelligence will revolutionise our life in the same way as the invention of printing, as the dissemination of information, forming an understanding and the power relationships are again in a state of transition. However, the change can also mean a change for the better, but this requires courage, an ability and willingness to come up with positive alternatives. In the end, the participants toyed with the idea of being able to follow the decision-making process in the same way we do mail parcels and what it would look like if digital knowledge and technologies planned for democracy were an established part of our operating culture.

The new programming period is on the Commission’s desk, but what would happen if the operators in the field could make the decisions?

Material for the mid-term evaluation was collected in sector-specific workshops, in which small groups consisting of project actors had a free hand to record their experiences and wishes on a shared platform. Almost 200 project actors had come to discuss the current programmes and had the opportunity to express their opinion on the actions, the grant amounts, the priorities and the impact of the projects. In addition, the actors were asked to envisage an Erasmus+ or European Solidarity Corps programme of their dreams. 

The Finnish National Agency for Education as the National Agency for the programmes will already take the feedback and the development proposals into account in its own operation where possible in the next few years. It will also forward feedback directly to the European Commission through different working groups and submit the feedback to the evaluation company 4FRONT, from which the Ministry of Education and Culture has commissioned the official national final and mid-term evaluations of the programmes.

Four smiling people around a table.
Joyful atmosphere among project actors at the mid-term evaluation workshop of the Erasmus+ Sports sector.

A lot of talk about the future, but what have we already succeeded in so far?

The event culminated in parallel sessions in which the project actors could share their successes and the insights they had gained in their own projects. Experiences were exchanged on a total of five themes: inclusion and diversity, environmental responsibility, digital transformation, active citizenship and the impact of EU programmes. 

In the session on gaining insights from inclusion, representatives of the Finnish Paralympic Committee, the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center and Åbo Akademi University reminded the listeners that if there is a wish to improve the inclusion of a specific group, the group should be included not only in the final result, but also in the whole process, starting from the brainstorming of ideas. 

In the session on the benefits of green practices, the introduction and the project actors’ panel discussion dealt with the competence required for the green transition, the mitigation of climate change and curbing biodiversity loss and how this competence is developed in different EU projects. A sustainable future is built together and the different education sectors and the field of youth play a meaningful role in the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

In the session on using digitalisation and artificial intelligence to support learning new things, the participants heard examples of how the Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps projects have taken advantage of digitalisation. In the session, discussion was provoked especially by the extremely topical theme of utilisation and regulation of artificial intelligence. Many good practices that could at least partly be used in various sectors emerged from the example projects. 

The example projects introduced in the Active citizenship is not automatic! session highlighted very well that good and effective projects can be completed even with smaller budgets. This was proved by the From girls to girls solidarity project of Espoon Monikulttuuriset lapset ja nuoret ry, the association of multicultural children and young people in Espoo, among others. The session on the far-reaching impacts of EU programmes in turn highlighted in an excellent manner how systematic work and perseverance can grow small-scale activities into international activities covering the entire municipality. Providing fruitful and important experiences to the participants does not always require large sums of money!

Author: Sofia Varjo