Doctoral Mobility Under the Erasmus+ programme: An interview with Svava B. Finsen - MCAA Magazine February 2023
Svava B. Finsen is a policy officer in the B.1 Higher Education unit in DG EAC. Her focus is on Key Action 131 and the implementation of the Erasmus+ programme for student and staff mobility in higher education. She also works on inclusion in the Erasmus+ programme and the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education.
The European Union offers a plethora of research, training, and career development opportunities to academics, including doctoral students. Two such generous initiatives include the Erasmus+ programme and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). At the EuroScience Open Forum 2022, a session was devoted precisely to doctoral mobility under the two programmes. We interviewed Svava B. Finsen, policy officer at the Erasmus+ programme.
Could you briefly tell us about the new blended (virtual and physical) mobility programme within Erasmus+?
Blended mobility is a new mobility format we introduced last year that combines physical mobility with a mandatory, and complementary, virtual component. We are not just talking about additional online lectures but a virtual component with added value that offers participants a chance to interact online in a meaningful way.
By offering blended mobility we are now able to offer participants the chance to spend a shorter time physically abroad by combining the mobility with a virtual component.
Blended mobility can therefore be used to achieve more inclusion in the Erasmus+ programme, by offering shorter physical mobility to those who are, for some reason, not able to go on a full semester physical mobility. Blended mobility can also act as a stepping stone towards longer physical mobility.
Blended mobility, and especially our new blended intensive programmes, offer students and staff the opportunity to explore new ways of learning and teaching and are a great way for institutions to organise programmes that tackle current societal challenges in an interdisciplinary way.
What inspired Erasmus+ to include blended mobility in the new programme?
Blended mobility was introduced in our traditional intra-European student and staff mobility in order to enrich and diversify the mobility opportunities for students and staff who are interested in learning, training or teaching abroad. It offers more flexibility to students, makes the programme more inclusive, and offers the environment for institutions to test out innovative ways of teaching and learning.
We have already received positive feedback from our stakeholders and are excited to see how institutions and participants will use these new opportunities in the coming years.
What measures are being taken to enhance a sense of ‘sustainability’ in the new Erasmus+ programme?
When it comes to student and staff mobility in the new programme, participants who travel by sustainable means are eligible for an additional top-up to their grant to encourage them to seek more sustainable ways of travelling. During the mobility, students are also encouraged to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
In general, all projects supported by the programme should be designed in an eco-friendly manner and should incorporate green practices in all facets. We also give priority to projects with a focus on developing green skills and supporting active engagement for sustainable development.
We want to see the Erasmus+ programme be a key instrument for building the knowledge, skills, and attitudes on climate change and support sustainable development both within the European Union and beyond.
Given the current sustainability and impending economic crisis, what is Erasmus+’s vision for doctoral candidates’ career development?
We would like to see more doctoral candidates experience the opportunities that Erasmus+ has to offer and see room for improvement when it comes to increasing their participation in the programme.
With the new programme we opened up more possibilities for doctoral candidates. For example, allowing doctoral candidates who are considered students to do short-term physical mobility, without a mandatory virtual component. This was previously only open to doctoral candidates who were considered staff.
All candidates can now receive short-term training in various skills that can be useful for their career development, both inside and outside academia. Having the possibility to go on shorter mobilities and attend blended intensive programmes on specific topics can offer a real added value to doctoral candidates.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face(d) when representing the higher education sector, and how do you overcome them?
There are a lot of exciting opportunities available to participants from higher education institutions but they are not always known to everyone in the institution. It can sometimes be difficult to reach students and staff who are focused on their work and convince them to look outside of their comfort zone and explore whether there are international opportunities that they might be missing out on.
The new programme opens up more possibilities for doctoral candidates
We’ve seen that engagement with other stakeholders can be very helpful here, for example through student associations and alumni associations. We know that hearing about experiences from your peers, whether you are a student or a staff member, can be one of the best ways to convince others to explore the international opportunities that are on offer.
Although beneficial to the professional aspects, “mandatory research mobility” could come at the cost of work and personal life disruption for the individual. Can you give examples of ways the programme ensures support to these researchers?
With the introduction of blended mobility and short-term mobility for all doctoral candidates it is now possible for doctoral candidates to spend less time physically abroad if their commitments in their home country do not allow for longer stays abroad. We have already seen enthusiasm from higher education institutions when it comes to blended intensive programmes that are designed specifically for doctoral candidates as they offer the possibility of only a week of physical activities that might suit doctoral candidates well.
During their Erasmus+ or MSCA project, some researchers could end up in challenging situations, for instance, discrimination in their host institution based on social identities (like gender, race, language), sexual harassment, bullying and so forth. What are some of the measures taken by the MSCA and Erasmus+ programmes to safeguard researchers who face such difficult situations? Do you think it would be useful to establish a third-party point of contact they could confidentially reach out to and that could then report back to your programmes?
Inclusion and diversity are one of the horizontal priorities of the Erasmus+ programme and this is a topic we take very seriously. Higher education institutions who want to participate in the Erasmus+ programme need to apply for and sign the Erasmus+ charter for higher education (ECHE) to be able to participate in any projects. In this charter, institutions commit to respect the principles of non-discrimination, transparency and inclusion that is set out in the programme and ensure equal and equitable access and opportunities to current and prospective participants from all backgrounds.
The compliance with the ECHE principles is monitored by the Erasmus+ National Agencies in all the EU Member States and third countries associated with the Erasmus+ programme so if participants feel like their sending or receiving institutions are not complying with these principles they should notify their relevant National Agency who can then take appropriate action.