Sunday 16 October 2016

Four years as an Erasmus officer

I have just retired from the University of Salford where I worked as a senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing. For four of the years, 2008-2012, I was the Erasmus officer for English. This meant looking after the students who went on an exchange visits to other EU states and also looking after the students who came here from other states. 

I also had to make sure the terms and conditions were adhered to and that EU regulations were followed. This involved quite a bit of admin but it wasn’t particularly harduous. The EU regulations and Salford University’s own were useful and effective. Plus we had a very efficient administrative helping us. 

The main point was the interaction with the students and making sure that they got the most out of their visit.
On the whole they did. Almost always, students’ grades went up when they returned to the UK. They often gained higher marks whilst abroad. This wasn’t because studying abroad was a soft option. A very careful system monitors that standards are the same and each course offered has to have ECTS – in other words how many credits is each module worth? We worked out a rigorous plan for translating the marks in to “Salford” marks. They were till often higher than what the student had achieved in the first year and in their third year they were also higher. I’m sure it’s because they grow up in other areas and this transfers itself into the academic. Their eyes are opened and they are challenged – no longer are they just living away from home but within a familiar culture – they’re taking on something that is a little bit different. In the few cases where a module was failed and they had to do a resit or they actually came back with a lowered mark, students still found it a positive experience. 

Even after I stopped being the Erasmus officer to take on a programme leader role, I continued to encourage my students to take up the challenge.  “I’m trying to get rid of you as soon as you arrive,” I used to joke during induction week. “I want you to consider going abroad next year.” 

Always, as well, it was a delight to welcome Erasmus students into our classes. They were always enthusiastic and tended to get good marks. They particularly enjoyed Creative Writing classes as this subject was often not offered in their home institution. Just occasionally, they may not actually need the credits so didn’t take the exam or submit the assignment- then out statistics would get screwed. On the whole, though, they had a positive effect on our outcomes. 

I too got to travel. I went to Limerick and was impressed by the beauty of the campus there. I went to Cyprus on a teaching visit and offered some creative writing classes. I managed to get stuck there because of the volcano in Iceland. Not only did I find some useful fodder for my own writing but I learnt how to deliver a class remotely, something I developed on my return. Another teaching visit took me Groningen where I again delivered some creative writing classes and also contributed a class on a Masters course in journalism. On all of these visits I was also able to meet my students.  

Two came from Cyprus with awards from the dean. One came back from Groningen and set up her own performance centre.  Another worked on the student magazine in Groningen and actually got paid for it.
We have other exchanges with Budapest and Munich. 

We also have exchanges with non-EU partners but exchanges there are much more complex and much more costly for the students. 

Other Europeans are our nearest neighbours and / but are more like us probably than people on other continents with the one proviso, that I’ve discussed in other posts that they have this peculiar difference of language. Even that, though, can be useful. Awareness of other languages in an individual can help to enrich their understating of their own language or of a type of universal language. 

Erasmus further helps in providing bursaries that often cover the cost in travel and extra insurance. Students pay their fees as normal and we then pay the partner university. It was the case for a long time that if a student went for two semesters, fees were waived altogether.  Thus students had slightly less debt
Up to four students can come to us from partner institutions and up to four of our students can go to each of our partner institutions. It can become quite competitive. 

Not fair, though, perhaps you’re thinking, because not everyone can go?  We’ve only ever had to turn away our own students because there was a problem with their first year results. Many of our students have commitments at home so can’t easily go for a year abroad. 

On the other hand, student coming to us have been “nominated” – i.e.  more applied than we had space for and some sort of decision was made based on the merit of the student. 

So yes, it can be competitive. Isn’t that good though, and doesn’t it make the students value it even more? In another post shortly, I’ll be going into more detail about how all benefit from a few going on exchange.
After Brexit, hard or soft, it will be harder to organise this sort of exchange.                         

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