“What do we want?” “Pizza and a beach body! More EU-LAC cooperation in Higher Education”!
Once upon a time, Higher Education cooperation was not needed. Erasmus was never created in Europe. Between 1987 and 2014, 3,770.000 individuals – the population of Panama – did not benefit from Erasmus. In 1987, 3,244 students from eleven countries did not embark on an international adventure, while 329,000 people – the combined populations of Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis – from 34 countries did not carry-out a mobility in 2013-2014. The number of beneficiaries was hence not multiplied by 100 over 27 years, and the threshold of 20% of all graduates from the European Higher Education Area having spent a period of time abroad by 2020 was never a goal. Can you imagine such a story? Luckily, all of this actually happened. Although these facts could be questions for a Friday night trivia at your designated Erasmus bar, they also show how important and attractive international mobility is in Europe.
LAC-wide, the Regional Academic Mobility for Accredited Courses at MERCOSUR-level, the Exchange and Academic Mobility Program of the Organization of Ibero-American States (68 institutions from 19 countries involved in 2016-2017), and the Pacific Alliance scholarships program (about 400 yearly) exist; however, the multiplication of LAC-integration systems attempts and the lack of higher education concerted policies between LAC-countries are clear obstacles to a truly ambitious international cooperation, while more and more young people enroll at universities and demand international possibilities.
Erasmus+, through Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD), International Credit Mobility, Strategic Partnerships, Knowledge Alliances, Capacity Building and Jean Monnet actions, is open to LAC-countries. Nevertheless, they do not take full advantage of it: although 72 LAC-institutions (out of 242 Partner Countries institutions) are involved in at least one of the 38 selected projects of the 2016-2017 EMJMD call for proposals, the participation imbalance among LAC-countries is striking: 34% are Brazilian institutions, four countries (Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador) are home to 75% of participating LAC-institutions, only 11 LAC-countries out of 33 are represented, and none is Caribbean. Regarding Jean Monnet, none of the 198 2016-2017 selected projects involve LAC-institutions, which demonstrates a total lack of interest for and understanding of the EU. Even the Spice Girls, who sang “if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends”, originally wanted to say “if you wanna be international, you gotta get with some partners”. True story. While the word “internationalization” seems trendy in LAC and the EU and the CELAC are talking about a Euro-Latin-American Area for Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, this situation is worrying, all the more so as Mexico, Brazil and the CELAC are EU-Strategic Partners. If they are indeed committed to this Area and to the EU-CELAC Academic Summits, the Brussels Declaration and the Action Plan 2015-2017, the EU-LAC cooperation must be reoriented.
Nonetheless, fear not, dear reader, for successful examples of EU-LAC cooperation exist: the Erasmus Mundus Action 2 project “Academic Mobility for Inclusive Development in Latin America” (AMIDILA), implemented between 2013 and early 2017, has been one of the most unique cooperation projects in recent years. It funded 203 mobility scholarships for students, scholars and staff from eleven Latin American and nine European universities in twelve fields related to inclusive development. It served both as a mobility program and a capacity building project since most Latin American universities were not very active internationally, making inclusion a core component institutionally as well. AMIDILA perfectly illustrates the benefits of the cooperation.
The new generation wants and needs higher education to be put at the top of the cooperation agenda, so will the October EU-CELAC Summit be a momentum for academic cooperation? Will Higher Education be at the center of EU-LAC relations in the foreseeable future? Is the EU-LAC Higher Education Area a real possibility? And most importantly: does Jon Snow really know nothing? These questions require answers, and projects and actions like AMIDILA, EMJMD, Capacity Building, Jean Monnet and International Credit Mobility seem like a worthy investment. The creation of a fund financed by European and willing LAC-countries would be a proof of commitment. “Willing”, because LAC is not an integrated area, so countries or groups of countries (ALBA, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, Pacific Alliance, SICA) ready to compromise could start partaking in it, and other members could progressively be integrated: undertaking small steps at a time is the best way forward, as it is regarding the EU-integration. In that respect, the EU-LAC Foundation would have a big role to play, while the 2017 EU-CELAC Summit represents a chance to reiterate the commitment to academic cooperation and move closer towards a common Area for Higher Education, at a time when the USA are losing interest in LAC and Erasmus celebrates 30 years.