In 2014, the EU launched a new education programme called Erasmus+, offering Ukrainian youth greater opportunities to study at European universities, pursue scientific research projects, and participate in internships and exchange programmes.
This programme will also allow Ukrainian universities to strengthen their capacities by creating consortiums and cooperating more closely with European universities. Erasmus+, an EU-financed educational programme, aims at integrating the higher education systems of EU partner countries, including Ukraine, into the European education area.
European education programmes are nothing new to Ukrainian youth who, for many years, have actively participated in the Erasmus Mundus programme, which offers opportunities for Master and PhD-level studies in Europe. Beginning in the upcoming academic year, Erasmus Mundus will be incorporated into the wider Erasmus+ programme. According to estimates of the European Commission, within the framework of Erasmus+, more than 4,000 young Ukrainians will benefit from university exchanges and more than 7,000 will take part in youth exchange projects between 2014 and 2020.
We spoke with Ukrainian alumni of the Erasmus Mundus programme about their time studying at European universities. Below is a brief summary of their experiences as well as their advice to current Ukrainian students who might be eligible to participate in an Erasmus+ exchange.
On their motivation for participating in Erasmus Mundus programmes. Opportunities to change their lives, to improve their knowledge and skills, to get a European diploma, and to live in a multicultural environment are cited by our respondents as key motivations for applying to Erasmus Mundus programmes. Erasmus Mundus Master and PhD programs are administrated by a consortium of universities, which provides students with the opportunity to study in two or more universities in nearly any European country. This also gives students the opportunity to earn diplomas from more than one university at the same time. While studying abroad, students live with fellow students from all over Europe. These benefits are of course accompanied by costs: students must leave their comfort zones, their friends, and their families for several years and start their lives from scratch in a new country with new people.
On the difference between the European and Ukrainian education systems. Erasmus Mundus alumni often point to the superior quality of the European education system, as compared to the Ukrainian system, as one of the motivating factors influencing their decision to take part in Erasmus Mundus programmes. All our respondents noted the more open and democratic attitude of European professors toward their students. While in Ukraine universities often encourage students to learn facts without critically reflecting upon them, Ukrainian Erasmus Mundus alumni say that European professors encourage their students to think. European universities also give their students more freedom: students can choose their courses, and professors do not monitor attendance. This means that each student is responsible for his or her own education. Understandably, the capacities of European universities and their library resources are more substantial than those of their Ukrainian counterparts.
On career prospects after graduation. Studying abroad and living in a multicultural environment can also have a positive impact on a student’s future professional achievements, whether in Europe or in Ukraine. Ukrainian graduates of European education programmes are better able to adapt to changes in the labour market. If a person has a European diploma, this often means that he or she not only has the associated professional skills, but also speaks one or more foreign languages, most importantly English. Our respondents report they are now working for international organisations, projects, companies and embassies or are continuing their studies at the doctoral level.
Advice to Ukrainian students. Our respondents suggest that Ukrainians who want to continue their studies in Europe should have a clear plan for after they complete their degrees. They also need to improve their English (or other foreign language) skills and have enough patience to prepare the necessary application documents. The most important advice they have to give, however, is that students should find a profession or a topic that inspires them and that they will be happy to work toward every day.
In preparing this article we spoke with:
Volodymyr Khomenko, alumnus of an MA programme on Advanced Robotics, he studied in Italy and Poland;
Maksym Khomenko, alumnusofan MAprogrammeinEconomicDevelopmentandGrowth, hestudiedinthe UK and Sweden;
Tetyana Podobinska–Shtyk, alumnaof an MA programme in Global Studies – European Perspective, she studied in Germany and Austria;
Victoria Polyarush, alumna of the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey;
Olena Vazhynska, a student of a post-master programme in Development Economics and International Cooperation, she studies in Italy.