Would you say that education matters? In fact, it is just the foundation of progress, innovation and socio-economic advancement. A well-educated population does not just fuel economic growth and development, it also fosters a more just and democratic society. This is even more potent when countries collaborate in education, notably in higher education, creating a treasure trove of shared knowledge. Let's delve into this exciting partnership between the European Union (EU) and the Philippines, powered by the Erasmus+ program.

Erasmus+, once a simple student exchange program launched in the 1980s, has blossomed into something far more significant. It has become synonymous with adventure, cultural exchange and personal growth. Mention Erasmus+ across Europe, and you'll conjure images of young scholars embarking on life-changing journeys, forging friendships that defy borders. But Erasmus+ goes beyond a temporary thrill. It has become deeply woven into the fabric of European identity. Films like 'L'Auberge Espagnole' (2002) and 'EuroTrip' (2004), songs by The Locomotive and Kettcar and countless books capture the essence of the Erasmus+ experience, from the initial excitement of exploration to the challenges of adaptation.

Through Erasmus+, generations of participants, from the pioneers of the 1980s to today's scholars, have identified as Europeans and identified with Europe. Now this positive impact extends far beyond Europe's borders. Since 2014, Erasmus+ has welcomed participants worldwide, including the Philippines.

More than just an acronym (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students), Erasmus+ also honors Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a renowned 15th-century scholar. Erasmus' life, fueled by his insatiable curiosity, mirrored the program's spirit. He spent years traveling across Europe, immersing himself in diverse cultures. His intellectual journey even inspired his masterpiece, 'In Praise of Folly.' It's fitting then, that the Erasmus+ program, established in 1987 by visionary Sofia Corradi ('Mother Erasmus'), would be named after this champion of exploration and lifelong learning. Just as Erasmus of Rotterdam centuries ago nourished the dream of a humanity united by common cultural roots, so today's students can become citizens of the world.

Professor Manuel Enverga, the Jean Monnet Coordinator at Ateneo de Manila, is a shining example of this deepened academic exchange. Erasmus+ goes even further, encompassing initiatives like Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters and Erasmus+ Capacity Building in Higher Education. These programs all share a common goal: fostering international partnerships and elevating academic standards on a global scale.

Let's dive deeper into the impact of these initiatives. In 2023, 39 Filipino universities participated in international mobility partnerships, creating invaluable opportunities for Filipino and European students and staff. Through Erasmus+, 75 Filipino higher education individuals embarked on mobility periods to Europe, while 37 European counterparts ventured to the Philippines. Over the span of 2014 to 2020, a staggering 756 students and staff reaped the benefits of these exchanges, fostering cross-cultural understanding and academic growth.

Another element of the program is Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters, which awards EU-funded scholarships to Master students worldwide. The programs last from one to two years. Imagine earning a joint or double degree by studying in at least two different Erasmus+ countries. Filipino students have consistently performed exceptionally well, highlighting the strength of the Philippines' education system and underlining the program's international impact.

But Erasmus+ goes beyond student exchanges. It offers opportunities for universities to improve and innovate! Erasmus+ Capacity Building in Higher Education action (CBHE) helps institutions develop their curriculum, enhance teaching methods, modernize management and strengthen ties with the job market. In essence, it supports universities in the Philippines (three projects were chosen last year) to elevate the overall quality and relevance of education.

On the curriculum front, Jean Monnet activities aim to spread knowledge about European studies globally. Since 1989, they've been supporting universities by funding modules, professorships and centers of excellence. Ateneo de Manila is currently participating in a Jean Monnet module. These activities promote research and teaching about European integration, fostering a lively academic discussion on a global scale.

These mobility and cooperation programs are concrete examples of the EU's commitment to fostering international collaboration, including with the Philippines. While Erasmus+ has gained significant momentum in the Philippines, research collaboration remains an untapped area with immense potential. The EU's research program, Horizon Europe, offers fellowships and exchange programs for collaborative research on global challenges. Imagine Filipino researchers tackling climate change or developing new technologies alongside colleagues from across the globe - a powerful force for positive change! These programs cover a wide range of issues, from climate and energy to digital innovation and inclusive societies. I strongly encourage Filipino academia and research institutions to explore these opportunities.

Ultimately, the EU-Philippines collaboration in higher education is a testament to the power of shared values, aspirations and goals. By working together, both regions can address common challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities in the rapidly evolving landscape of higher education. Through joint research projects, student exchange programs and institutional partnerships, our collaboration promotes cross-cultural understanding, fosters innovation and nurtures the next generation of global citizens and leaders.

Luc Véron is the Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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