Original publication: July 2016
Authors: ACA: Irina Ferencz, Marija Mitić, Bernd Wächter
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2pw0qBH
This study, entitled “Erasmus+: decentralised implementation – first experiences” was produced by staff of the Brussels-based Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) based on research carried out between April and June 2016. The study was produced for the Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) of the European Parliament.
The aim of the study was to help identify opportunities and challenges brought about by the Erasmus+ programme, specifically in its decentralised actions, i.e. those managed by national agencies for Erasmus+ (NAs) as well as to collect suggestions for improvement. While this initiative was carried out in parallel to the mid-term evaluation of Erasmus+ managed by the European Commission (EC), the two are separate initiatives. Unlike the mid-term evaluation, this study does not aim to make a full-scale assessment of the programme implementation, addressing only a selection of aspects related to it.
The report exclusively builds on two data sources:
- the answers to a questionnaire-based online survey addressing the 61 Erasmus+ NAs in all programme countries. The questionnaire contained a mix of closed and open questions (see Annex 1). 38 NAs replied to the online questionnaire via 36 written responses. The total response rate to the survey was thus 62.3%.
- telephone/Skype interviews with representatives of 10 NAs. Two NAs involved in the interviews did not originally respond to the online survey, making the total number of involved NAs 40.
Of the 36 responses to the online survey, nine (25%) were “full portfolio NAs” (i.e. managing all sectors of Education and Training and Youth), 12 (33.3%) were “education and training only” (“E&T only”) NAs, eight (22.2%) “Youth NAs”, and seven (19.4%) came from sectoral portfolio NAs (the “other types of NAs”). While Youth NAs responded under average, all other types were slightly overrepresented compared to their share of the sample. As this analysis is carried out rather early in the programme period – after two and a half out of the seven years of total programme duration – the majority of NAs did not yet have the necessary data available for a full quantitative analysis. Therefore, most of the responses reflect primarily the perceptions of the respective NAs and their experiences thus far, but are not yet based on full figures.
The large majority of NAs are very positive about the future achievement of the Erasmus+ programme objectives, both in the field of E&T and of Youth. Apart from one Youth-related objective, half or more of the NAs expect all the objectives to be reached “to a high or very high extent” by the end of the programme period.
The biggest advantages of Erasmus+ in the words of NAs are the potential for “more crosssectoral cooperation and mutual learning (applicants and NAs)” (mentioned by 66.7% of NAs), the “streamlined architecture (three Key Actions) and harmonisation of rules and regulations” (58.3%), the “simplified financial management (unit cost system3) and increased budget flexibility” (52.8%) and the “potential for wider impact” (52.8%).
The biggest challenges are the “reduced functionality of IT tools and their sheer number” (80.6%), “too high administrative complexity and red tape (Programme Guide, procedures, etc.)” (75.0%), and “too much focus on large-scale projects (smaller applicants disadvantaged) (41.7%).
Along the main axis of analysis, the core results are as follows:
- Cross-sectoral cooperation: while Erasmus+ has great potential for cross-sectoral cooperation, almost two-thirds of the respondents reported only a “moderate increase in cross-sectoral cooperation” under the programme, showing there is ample room for improvement, which needs however concrete actions in order to materialise. One such action would be a clear definition of ‘cross-sectoral’ in order to facilitate promotion, identification and tracking of truly cross-sectoral projects. Cross-sectoral cooperation of NAs at national level has evidently increased as the majority reports much closer and regular cooperation within (multi-sectoral) NAs as well as between (sectoral) NAs in a single country.
- Streamlining of programme rules across sectors: opinions on the degree of harmonisation of rules and regulations vary across the NAs. While some welcome the current streamlining of the programme and would welcome even more alignment (especially the education and training only NAs), others (the sectoral and Youth NAs) feel that harmonisation has gone too far.
- Financial management and funding: NAs largely appreciate the general use of the “unit costs system”, which they feel has significantly simplified the financial management of the programme. In some countries, however, beneficiaries encounter extra difficulties as they are obliged under national legislation to work on a “real cost basis”, implementing thus two systems in parallel. Some NAs also noted that the levels of unit costs are not always in line with actual expenses, which is a cause for concern, especially for beneficiaries. As for the levels of funding per Key Action (KA) and sector, KA2 is particularly seen as severely underfunded (only 22.9% of the NAs declare it is “adequately funded”). The NAs argue that this causes very high selectivity of project applications, which could turn out to be counterproductive in the medium term if no action is taken to remedy the situation.
- Applicants and beneficiaries: Most NAs report higher numbers of other types of applicants (enterprises, public bodies, NGOs) in Erasmus+ than in the previous programmes. Another change, and one that NAs are generally worried about, is the size of applicants. NAs are concerned that the programme favours institutional approaches to projects and large-scale applicants, disadvantaging smaller-size organisations and youth groups. They feel that some positive discrimination actions should be taken.
- Cooperation between NAs, EC and EACEA: NAs had very difficult collaboration with the EC at the start of Erasmus+, but the situation has markedly improved, to the point that only less than one in five agencies are currently “unsatisfied” with this collaboration. Given that the cooperation with the EACEA is close to non-existent, the NAs would appreciate much more information exchange with the former.
- Digitalisation of the programme – the IT tools: most NAs welcome the largescale introduction of IT tools under Erasmus+. However, they were deeply affected by the reduced functionality of the tools at the beginning of the programme. While significant progress has been made, there is still scope for improvement. Some NAs recommend to not only technically improve the tools, but also to streamline them and reduce their number, to make the process more manageable both for the NAs and applicants.
- Promotion of the programme: while the promotion of Erasmus+ is felt to be very important, NAs also caution about the danger of “over-enthusiastic” promotional activities, given the programme’s limited funding and already very high selectivity in some actions (e.g. KA2). Although most NAs strongly opposed the name Erasmus+ for the new programme, due to the loss of prominence of sectoral programme names, many NAs report that the new programme enjoys greater visibility than the predecessor programmes. They find it much easier to promote one programme with one single name, especially to mass media and the general public. Some confusion seems to remain, however, at the level of beneficiaries over Erasmus+ covering more than higher education.
The study concludes with eight recommendations, which are described in greater detail in the final section of the report. The recommendations, presented in a summary form below, are fully based on suggestions by the NAs that contributed to this report.
- Recommendation 1: Making cross-sectoral cooperation “really happen”
- Recommendation 2: A halt on further harmonisation, with some fine-tuning
- Recommendation 3: More flexibility in the use of the budget
- Recommendation 4: Making room for smaller-size applicants
- Recommendation 5: A formalised cooperation framework with EACEA
- Recommendation 6: Not more, but better and fewer IT tools
- Recommendation 7: Proportional promotion to the funding available
- Recommendation 8: No more change for the sake of change
While there is clearly room for improvement, it is noteworthy that the majority of NAs describe the Erasmus+ programme as an “important step forward” and have a high level of trust in its capacity to reach its objectives.
Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/585_877
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