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Interview with Martine Reicherts, Director-General DG Education and Culture, European Commission


What does the Directorate General Education and Culture (DG EAC) of the European Commission have to offer researchers and HEIs outside Europe?

Erasmus+ has four main actions offering opportunities for students, researchers and university staff. They are fully funded by the EU and provide good conditions for those selected.

'International credit mobility' allows higher education institutions (HEIs) to develop partnerships for mobility of students, researchers and staff between 'Programme' and 'Partner' countries. The Programme countries are the 28 EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Turkey and North Macedonia; all other countries are Partner countries. The mobility project is on the basis of bilateral agreements setting out the mobility flows between the HEIs involved.

Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMD) are high-quality and highly integrated international Master degree programmes, with EU-funded scholarships attracting the brightest students worldwide. Three Programme country HEIs must be involved but there are also opportunities for HEIs from any country to join consortia offering EMJMDs.

Cooperation projects allow for capacity-building in higher education, meaning EU-funded support to modernise and reform higher education institutions and systems in eligible Partner countries. High income and industrialised countries (such as Japan, Singapore, the USA or Canada) are not eligible for this action.  

Jean Monnet activities develop excellence in teaching and research in EU or European integration studies worldwide. This may be of particular interest to EURAXESS Links readers as a special budget is earmarked this year for applicants from a small number of countries including India and Japan.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) focus on research excellence, starting with doctoral training but including individual projects for experienced researchers. The programme supports research projects which implement the triple "I" dimension (International, Inter-sectorial and Inter-disciplinary). It covers all disciplines and is also open to non-academic partners, such as industry, libraries, hospitals, etc. Within Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), MSCA will support 65,000 researchers including 25,000 doctoral candidates.

Ms Martine Reicherts, what brought you to India in November 2016? What actions does DG EAC have to promote EU education and research programmes outside Europe?

What brought me to India was the FICCI higher education summit and exhibition. India used to be the biggest single beneficiary of our worldwide cooperation and mobility programme but numbers seem to have been falling since we consolidated our different programmes. I wanted to come to find out why and the opportunity offered at the FICCI summit to speak with the AIU, UGC and the vice chancellors of all the major Indian universities under one roof seemed ideal. What I discovered was that India as a whole is not fully aware of what Europe is offering and how HEIs can get involved. What I plan to do is to continue our information campaign through high-level conferences and individual workshops and seminars in cities across the country. We know we need to get outside the capital and spread the benefits in such a diverse and vibrant country. When we cannot be there in person, we are using webinars and social media to inform people about our programmes, as well as mainstream publications. EURAXESS Links is another important link in that chain.

How does DG EAC promote European integration studies and research abroad?

DG EAC promotes European integration studies and research worldwide through 'Jean Monnet activities,' part of the Erasmus+ programme. Jean Monnet activities also foster dialogue between the academic world and policy-makers. Professors in subject areas related to the European integration process (typically law, economics, social sciences, international relations, or history, but also less traditional areas such as medicine or hard sciences) can apply for a Jean Monnet grant to support specific activities.

As I said before, the EU relies on webinars, mass and social media, conferences, workshops and fairs to reach out to target audiences but word of mouth is equally important. A researcher or academic explaining to colleagues and peers how to apply, what the scope for activities is and what benefits these can bring in terms both of funding and visibility, can be a great ambassador for us.

Our message should be this: 'Jean Monnet' can help develop Indian expertise in areas which improve understanding, enhance cooperation and indirectly boost trade with the EU. Moreover, there is a Jean Monnet project just beginning on cultural analysis and European identity. With this, India moves with the EU into the realms of global citizenship and social integration which are so vital everywhere in today's world as we all face up to migrant and refugee challenges and the rise in extremist ideologies and acts of terrorism.

Under Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), organisations from so-called developed or emerging economies countries outside of Europe are not eligible for direct funding (as in other programmes of Horizon 2020).  This includes countries like US, China but also India. Yet, MSCA Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE), the most popular MSCA funding scheme in many of the EURAXESS Links (renamed EURAXESS Worldwide with the new portal)countries, allows some funding to go to the Japanese institutions (not directly, but through the agreement they have with the project leader institution in Europe). Could you tell us how Indian institutions could benefit from MSCA programmes, i.e. RISE action?

Indeed, some countries do not receive direct funding under Horizon 2020 because of their advanced economic development allowing them to financially support their own organisations. However, there are exceptions and programmes like MSCA offer much more than just financing: enabling access to networks of European institutions collaborating at the highest level of research excellence. This can give a new dimension to research, not only at academic institutions but also in industry.

In Japan, HEIs cannot (legally speaking) setup courses or programmes with more than one other HEI (even within Japan). Therefore JMDs are quite difficult to setup since they require two or more European HEIs at least. But there is an alternative to that through the use of the bilateral action International Credit Mobility under Erasmus+. Could you tell us more about how it works, and what are its main specificities?

We are very aware that different countries have different approaches and different traditions but what we want to see overall is an ever-closer recognition of diplomas and credits for periods of study spent abroad.  In the case of the Erasmus Mundus joint degrees, our basic rules are based on the higher degree of academic cooperation existing in Europe, where we have close links between HEIs and a 'European Higher Education Area' which provides comparable learning outcomes and academic certificates. If the legal structure in a non-European Partner Country does not allow its HEIs to join EMJMD consortia, it is possible to use the 'international credit mobility' route to establish cooperation and mobility flows with the Erasmus+ Programme Countries. For students, this can mean periods of study of 3-12 months in Europe which must be recognised as part of their home degree programmes – we are talking about any level of study here, undergraduate, graduate or even doctoral, and there are opportunities for staff including postdocs to spend 1 week to 2 months in a partner HEI. The arrangements are made between the HEIs but there is almost limitless scope.

Participation of women in Erasmus+ and MSCA actions: Which percentage of the total Erasmus Mundus grantees and Marie Curie Actions (2007-2013) are female? What is DG EAC doing to attract promising female students and researchers?

We do not set quotas but we do encourage consortia selecting students for scholarships to take gender and geographical balance into consideration and Erasmus+ also makes special provision for certain disadvantaged groups so that access reaches beyond the privileged few. Just to give one indication, last year there were 1347 Master students selected from over 24,250 applications. 673 of these were men, 674 were women, although there were actually more than 14,250 male applicants and only 10,000 female. In MSCA, the share of female researchers is just under 40%, which is relatively good, taking into account that women account for just 33% of the research population in Europe.

Do you have any tips for potential Higher Education Institutions in EURAXESS Worldwide (EURAXESS Links before the new portal) countries wanting to apply for an Erasmus+, Jean Monnet or a Marie Skłodowska-Curie call?  Where can they look for European partners?

Yes. I would say that there is real competition for Erasmus+ funding because it achieves what it sets out to do: develop innovative approaches and support modernisation and internationalisation of higher education, and support the best students, researchers and staff worldwide. But the EURAXESS Links countries are the ones with highly developed HEIs and highly qualified researchers, meaning both Europe and our Partner Countries can benefit from the contacts.  Putting together a good proposal takes time and effort but success is not only its own reward, it is a well-funded step ahead in this inter-connected and fast-changing world. European partners are also looking for opportunities to develop cooperation and close partnerships, whether through personal contacts made at seminars or conferences or previous joint activities, including via EURAXESS and the Participant Portal. These days, higher education and research are serious businesses: they are our future and that of all our young people and creative minds. And so, supported by our EU programmes, they deserve all the time and effort we can make together.

Thank you very much for this interview Ms. Reicherts!