This year's Erasmus+ Annual Conference, held online for the first time, attracted more than 200 delegates across two days.
Interviews, discussions and presentations over the two sessions focused on the impact of the programme during the last seven years, how it has helped to boost employability and inclusion, as well as how projects have responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Here we look back at the event and share some of the key insights.
How the Erasmus+ community is responding to COVID-19
Following a welcome and introduction from UK National Agency (NA) Director Jane Racz, the opening session on day one featured stories of how beneficiaries and participants reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic to keep their Erasmus+ activities going.
Anne Amzallag, from Bredon Hill Academy in Worcestershire, told us how, during the lockdown, technology had enabled local real-world activities taking place in her students’ own homes and neighbourhoods.
"We were using technology devices for remote learning, but we were also encouraging our pupils to take part in activities safely outdoors," she said.
Dominic McGeown explained how, at South West College in Northern Ireland, the changing situation was seen as a positive as students were able to experience the flexibility that people entering the workplace are likely to need: "We adapted everything so that we could deliver the same content virtually, whilst maintaining the standard.
"We teach students to be adaptable to the situation. A lot of times things don't always go as you planned, but there is usually an alternative."
Dana-Marie Knetsch, a student at the University of the Arts, London, gave a fascinating undergraduate perspective, describing how she continued her overseas placement remotely from home.
"The most significant learning has been how to collaborate with others in the digital space,” she said. “Being thrown into that unprecedented situation pushed me to explore new ways to continue learning. It helped me think outside the box."
Benefits to schools and the higher education sector
The second session of the day focused on the impact of Erasmus+ for schools and higher education. Owain Wright of the NA was joined for the discussion, again, by Anne Amzallag as well as Professor Bob Gilmour of Glasgow Caledonian University.
Professor Gilmour headed up the Promoting Excellence in Employability and Transversal Skills programme, which aimed to enhance experience and expertise. He said that the programme was about enhancing the professional and interpersonal skills of students: "These are experiences they wouldn’t have expected in some university environments. It develops technical skills and employability. We also didn’t expect the level of impact on staff expertise. They enhanced their professional skills."
Championing inclusion and diversity
Day two continued the impact theme, this time looking at the adult education, youth and vocational education and training (VET) sectors, with a focus also on inclusion and employability.
In a recorded interview, European Manager of Morthyng Group Ltd, Geoff Spinks spoke to Paul Guest about how the organisation organises work experience placements in Europe for socially disadvantaged young people: "Whenever a young person comes on our programme the induction involves Erasmus+. We have learners from previous years who come in and discuss what they learned, how they moved forward, and how they’ve actually got a career now where previously that may not have been the case.
"Our recruitment levels have gone up year on year and that has been influenced, not solely on Erasmus+, but on the package that they can see. It’s something that a lot of training providers are not able to deliver, and it’s fortunate that the funding from Erasmus+ has enabled the group of learners that we work with to take advantage of it."
We aim to show students that learning can be done in any environment, it’s not limited to a classroom.
Dan King spoke with Andreu Gual of Corkscrew Ltd about their most recent project, ‘Future-proofing Critical Skills Through Entrepreneurship’.
Andreu explained that the project looks at trends predicted by the World Economic Forum and the OECD. Corkscrew then builds placements to help students learn the skills to match these predicted economic needs.
"The skills that make us different are creativity, critical thinking, initiative and soft skills. We map those skills to professional profiles. We have created a programme to develop those skills into an entrepreneur mindset," said Andreu.
"We aim to show students that learning can be done in any environment, it’s not limited to a classroom, that you need to be the master of your own learning. You have to have the initiative to keep learning. One thing we hear from colleges is that students return with their confidence high."
A culture of internationalisation
Kevin Robinson then chaired a panel discussion about the impact of Erasmus+ in the adult education, youth and VET sectors. He was joined by Marguerite Hogg, of the Association of Colleges; Sian Holleran of Colleges Wales; Kayleigh Wainwright from UK Youth; and Katherine Latta of UK NARIC.
Marguerite spoke of the success of Erasmus+ in introducing internationalisation into colleges: "There is evidence that Erasmus+ has played a huge part in internationalisation across the sector. As we move into a post-Brexit world, we don’t want to cut off young people and adults from looking outside of the UK for best practice in their fields."
Sian commented that, in Wales, colleges have also been expanding their internationalisation agendas: "We have been to Finland to look at embedding numeracy and literacy in a vocational setting. We travelled to the Basque Country in Spain to look at innovation in VET. Last year we visited Finland and Italy to look at internationalisation.
"We hope that colleges will start to consider how an international dimension could enrich and enhance teaching and learning experiences."
Closing the conference, NA Deputy Director Maddy Rose thanked all participants and reflected upon what had been shared during the two days: "It’s always so interesting to hear from the diverse range of organisations that we’re funding across the UK and to gain an insight into the activities that you are supporting.
"I'd also like to thank the audience and everyone in the wider Erasmus+ community for the roles you play in making this programme a success."
If you were not able to attend the event, our conference webpage has a range of resources and information relating to the topics covered, while recordings of each day are available on our YouTube channel.