On Tuesday 27 March 2018, YouthProAktiv joined an event dedicated to the future of the Erasmus+ Youth in Action programme. The event was held at the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Emilian Pavel and moderated by Wout Van Calmere, Coordinator of the European Parliament Youth Intergroup, and it brought together a group of panellists and other professionals interested in mobility, professional development and collaboration in the field of youth, and passionate about making sure that the programme reaches its full potential.
After opening remarks from three senior representatives of the Parliament, the Commission and research respectively, the event gave the participants the chance to learn the outcomes of recent research by RAY Network (Research-based Analysis and Monitoring of Erasmus+: Youth in Action Programme). Researcher Andreas Karsten presented some conclusions from RAY’s extensive research based on over 10 years of data from numerous countries, under the title ‘Turbocharging Erasmus+ Youth in Action – what can be learned from research for the new generation?’. The core of this was a summary of recommendations: five aspects to maintain, five aspects to improve, and five aspects to introduce. The research team were positive about several aspects of the current form of the programme such as its role as a safe and fun space to encounter, explore and appreciate intercultural learning and a crucial training ground for new youth leaders, trainers and workers. However, other aspects needed improvement in their opinion. Among these was the need to get better at training experienced youth professionals, who remain interested but whose need for more advanced training offers and a broader range of focus areas is often left unsatisfied. Diversity should be strengthened and reproduced too, with the programme more actively targeting young people with fewer opportunities. Another highlighted need for improvement was in organising meaningful policy dialogue. The five key aspects to introduce in the next generation of the programme were: new formats to address current social and political developments; new tools that help the transfer of learning into organisations; new instruments that help organisations to grown and professionalise; new ideas to address the gap between digitalisation and youth work; and new approaches to the recognition of youth sector professionals.
Several policy-makers and professionals were able to present their perspectives, share latest thinking and react to the research findings: MEP Emilian Pavel, Youth Intergroup; Christine Mai, Communication advisor in the Cabinet of European Commissioner Tibor Navracsics; Irmeli Karhio, Chairperson of the RAY Network; Alessandro Senesi, Deputy Head of Unit at European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture; Ville Majamaa, Board Member of the European Youth Forum; and Helmut Fennes, Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute of Educational Science, University of Innsbruck.
Alessandro Senesi from the Commission was happy to remark that many of the researchers’ recommendations fitted well with the outcomes of their internal assessment. He highlighted the excellent opportunity they have with the timings for the Commission to present its proposals for a new Erasmus+ and a new Youth strategy so close to each other, allowing the Commission to align these and make the most of both. He said that the planned evolution of the programme strategy will focus on some of the points stressed in the report. Dialogue will be a central point in their new proposal – “there will be a much bigger effort and precise focus on that” – looking at how young people can cooperate in the thinking for the future. They want to come up with a more hollicstic and integrated approach to youth work and improving competences, and digitalisation will play a more important part in this. They would like to, among others, “encourage more trans-sectorial partnerships”; “make exchanges and mobility even easier”, especially for small groups; and as an overarching concern, they will further increase access to under-represented groups and increase diversity, for example through new types of outreach and new virtual and offline communities they are developing.
Ville Majamaa from the European Youth Forum emphasised again the need for quality policy dialogue in which policy-makers will actually engage – which is not really there if half of the dialogue is not in the room. “If you want to disengage and disempower young people, this is how you do it,” he concluded. He also talked about the need for the programme not to just be successful at individual change, but to have long-term institutional and policy impact, to do more for resilience of the organisations and the youth field.
The need for a greater diversity resonated the most for Helmut Fennes, who is worried about the Matthew effect of accumulated advantage currently present, with those who have getting more: there is a very high proportion of highly-educated people with rich experience taking part. How do we involve those who are less educated or have special needs or fewer opportunities? He was also concerned that a vast majority of the investment in the programme goes into mobility itself and it neglects the wider learning experience which starts well before the mobility and carries on. In his opinion, there should be more focus on the preparation for the mobility and on making the most of it afterwards and building on it.
Emilian Pavel added, among other points, his wish for paperwork in the programme to be cut. He also emphasised the value of travelling, working and learning together in person, which he hopes to preserve in the programme and add to it.
Irmeli Karhio talked about professionalisation of the field, the needs of the more experienced youth workers, and inclusion in the programme. Professionalisation versus volunteers who merely wish to do something meaningful temporarily while having their competences officially recognised was discussed further through open questions and comments.
The budget for the next edition of Erasmus+ Youth in Action programme was an important point throughout the conversations. Milan Zver, Member of the European Parliament, CULT, standing rapporteur for Erasmus+, could not be present at the event but shared with the participants at distance his strong support for an increased budget and his determination to persuade member states to approve this. Wout Van Calmere said that the budget should be at least three times higher, but still not quite the ten times he would hope for. Emilian Pavel concluded the event with his assurance that the Parliament has agreed on a specific increase in budget that will be negotiated with the other actors now, and he emphasised the determination not only to bring more money in but also to look for new ways to use it as efficiently and effectively as possible.
These are exciting times for the youth sector and the Erasmus+ Youth in Action programme, and YouthProAktiv will keep a close eye on new developments and campaign for enriching and widening of development opportunities for everyone.