In Detail

Here you will find much more information about Erasmus and Switzerland, the interim solution and the future of the programmes.


More about Erasmus

After Switzerland was excluded from Erasmus+ in 2014, the Federal Council set up a transitional solution for Erasmus+. In contrast to Erasmus+, Switzerland pays both for students going from Switzerland to another European country and for students coming to Switzerland from abroad. The transitional solution at tertiary level is known as the Swiss European Mobility Programme (SEMP). Although small amounts of financial resources are also planned  for cooperation projects between Swiss organisations, the Federal Council’s focus and priority is clearly on mobility.

Switzerland was a full member of the previous programmes (ERASMUS, Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action) from 2011 to 2013. However, after the Swiss electorate adopted the mass immigration initiative on 9 February 2014, the EU suspended negotiations on Switzerland’s membership of Erasmus+.

While the implementation of the mass immigration initiative was being discussed in parliament, the Federal Council communicated at every opportunity that membership of Erasmus+ was a priority. As soon as the mass immigration initiative had been implemented in a way that is compatible with the free movement of persons, Switzerland should again have tried to become a part of Erasmus+. Recently, instead of working on a re-association, the transitional solution was extended until 2020.

On 4 February, however, the media reported that Switzerland was not conducting negotiations with the EU on Switzerland’s Erasmus+ membership, as the chances of success were considered too slim. This is despite the fact that both the European Commission and the Council of the EU (Council of Ministers of the Member States) have published statements that the negotiations on Erasmus+ are now open again on the part of the EU.

For the universities, the transitional solution for Erasmus+ involves a great deal of administrative work, as an individual exchange agreement has to be negotiated with each university. In addition, Swiss educational institutions are de facto excluded from cooperation projects, even though the transitional solution would provide money for this. This is why membership in Erasmus+ is also very important for the universities themselves.

Some foreign universities do not want to conclude any exchange agreements at all with Swiss universities as part of the transitional solution. Other universities have reduced the quotas for students from Switzerland considerably and now offer, for example, only five places instead of the previous twenty. This will greatly reduce the number of places available to students from Switzerland. Nevertheless, it has so far mostly been possible to find a different place for students who could not find a place at their chosen university due to the smaller contingent. What it will look like in the future, however, is unclear. However, there are clear indications that without membership in Erasmus+ (or the successor programme from 2021), a growth in mobility will no longer be possible.

In addition, non-membership in Erasmus+ leads to great uncertainty. The exchange agreements must be renewed every year. If Switzerland were to permanently abandon Erasmus+ and its successor programme, the restrictions on the mobility of students from Switzerland could become even greater. There are already concrete parts of the Erasmus+ programme from which students from Switzerland are excluded. The online language courses, for which the Swiss Transitional Solution (SEMP) offers no alternative, deserve special mention. Switzerland can be expected to be excluded from other important aspects over time if it does not become a member of Erasmus+ again.

As far as cooperation projects are concerned, Swiss organisations are de facto excluded, although the SEMP would have provided money for them, as the administrative hurdles are too high. As a result, Swiss educational institutions and youth associations cannot participate in international cooperation projects. Not only is this detrimental to international networking; it also prevents Switzerland from bringing its strengths forward, for example in vocational training in Europe.

Erasmus+ is limited to the period 2014-2020. There will be a successor programme to Erasmus+ for the following period 2021-2027. The federal government and many other actors are currently talking about the fact that they no longer want to negotiate membership with Erasmus+, but want to be part of the successor programme from the very beginning. Like all EU framework programmes, this programme is linked to the EU’s multiannual financial plan (MFF2021 – 2027). The EU will therefore probably not negotiate Switzerland’s participation in the successor programme until the EU institutions have adopted the MFF 2021 – 2027. In plain language, this means that the EU is not expected to open negotiations until autumn 2020. That is very little time. If you look at the negotiations to date, Switzerland’s chances of being involved in the follow-up programme from the outset are much greater if it is already a member of Erasmus+, even if only for one or two years.

The negotiations will primarily revolve around how much money Switzerland will have to contribute. In 2013, the EU demanded that Switzerland participate in the programme in line with its GDP, analogous to the EEA states (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein). Switzerland insisted that it would pay less than that. It is revealing that Switzerland accepts precisely these conditions in the Horizon2020 research framework agreement. The reason why Switzerland will be back at Horizon2020 this year, but not at Erasmus+, is that Switzerland never really negotiated its contribution to Horizon2020, but accepted the conditions that apply to the EEA states from the outset. Particularly in the context of Brexit, it cannot necessarily be expected that the EU will make much of a contribution to Switzerland in this respect. If the research and education programmes were seen as a single entity, our chances of rejoining Erasmus+ would increase.

Horizon Europe is the European Union’s framework programme for research and innovation. As a funding programme, it aims to build an EU-wide knowledge- and innovation-based society and a competitive economy, while at the same time contributing to sustainable development. In order to have a targeted impact on society, the programme sets priorities and contains a comprehensive catalogue of measures.

You can find further information here.

Further Links

We have compiled a list of links where you can get more information about Erasmus (and Switzerland).