Original publication: June 2018
Authors: Panteia: Paul Vroonhof, Amber van der Graaf; Ockham IPS: Bert-Jan Buiskool
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Study aim and approach

The Erasmus+ programme aims, amongst others, to boost skills and employability contributing to modernise education, training and youth work and to foster transnational partnerships between a wide range of institutions from education, training, youth and sport sectors[1]. The programme has been running since 2014, and as such, the European Commission has recently launched and completed the mid-term evaluation for the programme.

 

This study was commissioned by the European Parliament’s CULT committee to gain objective, reflective insights on the Erasmus+ programme and to arrive at recommendations which can be applied for the remainder of the current programming period and to the next period. Specifically, this study has three main objectives and correspondingly, three main strands of study:

  • The first strand is that that the study offers a broad overview of Erasmus+ and its overall outcomes and performance, focussing especially on the implementation level.
  • The second strand of this study is to examine the decision making procedures adopted for Erasmus+. Delegated and implementing acts are introduced, as well as their use in Erasmus+.
  • The third strand of this research is, given the EU and national level data collected, to provide a reflection of the European Commission’s mid-term evaluation of Erasmus+.

The approach taken to conduct this study consists of EU level desk research and EU level interviews with officials from the European Commission, and with non-governmental experts. This was complemented by national level research in 10 Member States.

Erasmus+ Implementation experiences

The general positive findings of the mid-term evaluation have been confirmed during this study. The programme is said to have a strong added value by stakeholders across fields and administrative levels. As the areas of education and training, youth, and sports are not typically sectors which aim to generate profit, support in these areas from the EU has a comparatively high impact.

According to EU stakeholders, there is also now more room for different types of projects to be supported by the EU given the design of Erasmus+.[2] As the programme is organised along three Key Actions which organise activities across education and training, youth, and to a lesser extent, sports, projects which have a bearing on multiple fields and sub-fields can be supported. This contributes to the added value for EU stakeholders and national beneficiaries.

The positive perception of the programme and the demand for the support it is clear from the budgetary absorption rate of 100%. This has given rise to a trend where success rates for applications decline though the quality of the applications is increasing; even good quality applications must be rejected due to budgetary pressure.

At the implementation level, the design of the programme, and the Erasmus+ architecture based on three main Key Actions, the programme in its current form appears to be reaching its stride. The implementation issues experienced at the outset of the programme during 2014 and 2015 have been mitigated to a large extent.

A further observation is that, now, halfway through the programming period, the knowledge and expertise of implementing organisations such as the EACEA, and of the National Agencies have been further consolidated. The quality of the support offered by National Agencies to applicants is said to have improved especially.

There is more potential for cross-sectoral cooperation than currently witnessed by both EU and Member State stakeholders. Simplification of the programme has led to greater simplicity of programme architecture, which is beneficial for both beneficiaries and those in charge of management. However, in some cases this has gone too far as it has obscured the identity of the different types of actions and the standard order to the application process means that similar requirements exist regardless of the size and scope of a project. Although actions have been put in place to strengthen the participation of disadvantaged groups, the inclusiveness of Erasmus+ could still be improved.

Though the new architecture makes it easier to promote, the results of Erasmus+ are still not sufficiently communicated to a wider public. In connection with this, there could be further mainstreaming of the outputs produced by projects but also of the broader impacts reached by supported projects. Furthermore, although funds are complementary with other funds contributing to human capacity development, synergies are not sufficiently explored in practice.

Delegated and implementing acts in Erasmus+

The Lisbon treaty introduced a new system for the conferral of powers to the European Commission by the legislature which entails a division between delegated and implementing acts. The Erasmus+ Regulation provides the Commission with secondary rulemaking powers both through delegated acts for amending a Regulation article providing additional actions to be managed by national agencies, and through implementing acts for the adoption of Annual Work Programmes.

The Commission has never made use of its power to adopt delegated acts under the Erasmus+ Regulation. Every year it has utilised its power to adopt the Annual Work Programmes with usually one amendment per year. The case studies of the Annual Work Programmes reveal that EU policy priorities played an increasingly important role through the years for the implementation of Erasmus+.

The Annual Work Programme 2017 and more importantly the Annual Work Programme 2018 introduced the European Solidarity Corps as an initiative that would be implemented through the European Voluntary Service. While this use of the implementing acts procedure was perceived as questionable by the European Parliament, the basic act allows for the possibility for the Commission to use the Annual Work Programme in such a way.

An alternative decision making procedure is practically difficult to suggest due to rules against making suggestions of hybrid decision-making procedures under the 2016 IIA and the Common Understanding on Delegated Acts.

To help avoid discussions regarding decision-making mandates, (such as those triggered by the European Solidarity Corps decision), providing more detail in the basic act on the exact nature of the powers conferred upon the Commission may help to prevent similar situations in the future. Moreover, using delegated acts for some elements of the Annual Work Programmes that are currently decided under implementing acts may provide for greater influence on secondary policy choices, such as the (multi-)annual orientation of the programme.

Recommendations

A general note to be made here is that given the breadth of the programme, and the large scope of the mid-term, many areas for improvement arise, despite the programme’s success up until now. As such, it is important to bear in mind that in order to make concrete and pragmatic recommendations, the Parliament itself must decide on what it feels the key priorities for the programme should be.

A decision of this nature will also require reflecting on what the strategic focus and goal of the programme ought to be: to continue maximizing the programme in terms of numbers of users and projects, or to focus on groups who are most hard to reach such as vulnerable groups and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. The demand for youth and for KA2 projects far outstrips the European Commission’s ability to supply funding within the current budget allocation. With the increased programme budget, attention should be paid as to how this could be allocated to the youth sector. Additionally, there should be more room for smaller projects to be supported, with more proportionate administrative, information and eligibility requirements when applying for support.

Potential recommendations for Erasmus+ programme

  • For the overall direction of Erasmus+ the recommendation was made by national level research that the youth sector should receive more support, specifically funding.
  • Key Action 2 on strategic partnerships should also receive more support by allocating a larger share of the budget.
  • Adult learning as a sector could also receive more specific focus and visibility within the Erasmus+ programme.
  • Allow for smaller projects to be conducted within Erasmus+, with proportionately lower administrative and eligibility requirements.
  • Consider the possibility of introducing multiple calls for proposals for the other fields besides youth to promote accessibility of the programme.
  • Revise the administrative and information requirements needed for application procedures, notably in Key Action 2 to make this less lengthy and burdensome, and harmonise the information requirements where possible.
  • Investigate the functionality of the existing IT tools, and explore where these tools and the information they collect can be better harmonised, with a view to perhaps reducing the number of IT tools needed when using Erasmus+. A suggestion is to hold consultations with end-users specifically to achieve a balance in user-friendliness of the programme and the information needs of EU policy makers who govern the programme.
  • For projects targeting individuals from disadvantaged or remote areas, investigate the possibility of setting up complementary projects using European Social Investment Funds to promote development of disadvantaged regions and the inclusion of individuals living in such regions.

[1]    European Commission (2016), Erasmus+ website: http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/discover/index_en.htm
[2]    From interviews with EU level stakeholders, and from national data collection conducted in the context of this study.

Link to the full study and the annex: http://bit.ly/617-482

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Further reading: Erasmus+: decentralised implementation – first experiences [original publication July 2016]

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