Peer-to-Peer Communication // Financial Barriers of Access // Lack of Organisational Capacity for Inclusive Measures
Project number: 2022-2-DE02-KA210-YOU-64C07EDB Erasmus+: Key Action 2 – Small-scale partnerships in Youth
For more information about the COMPASS project or this study, please email: Nesirky@cge-erfurt.org
The Erasmus+ program is a flagship program of the European Union. Through the mobilities, cooperations, and the organisations it supports, it plays a crucial role in fostering a more inclusive, cohesive, and resilient society. However, ensuring that the program is accessible to all presents ongoing challenges. Our research has taken place over six months, in the form of surveys and focus groups and has highlighted the following:
Peer-to-Peer Communication: Many young-people’s first mobility is a result of a peer presenting the opportunity to them, rather than interacting with an organisations’ promotions.
Financial Barriers of Access: Participants highlighted participation fees, slow reimbursements, work-obligations and lack of trust in organisations as reasons for turning down opportunities.
Lack of Organisational Capacity for Inclusion Measures: Erasmus+ implementing organisations highlighted lack of capacity as a barrier to inclusivity, with critically under-funded rates in many categories and countries.
Purpose of the Study
The primary objective of this project, COMPASS (Co-Creating with Young Migrants Communication on Educational Services), is to gain a preliminary understanding of the experiences, needs, and preferences of migrants in our local contexts in Ireland, Germany, and Portugal regarding the accessibility of our programs. This understanding is sought through the lens of young migrants engaged in our projects.
The aim of this study is to gather insights on the challenges and strategies associated with developing and communicating inclusive Erasmus+ projects. The findings of this study will help inform future initiatives and support the professional development of educators and NGOs working in this area.
In March, 2024, CGE Erfurt e.V. and IBS Institut für Berufsbildung und Sozialmanagement GmbH will co-manage a COMPASS Academy training, which will connect youth workers, project managers and young migrants, to co-create best practices on communication of opportunities based on the research phase of this project, as well as the participants lived-experiences.
The study involved a survey of 65 individuals who have participated in Erasmus+ projects. The survey included questions about participants’ experiences, expectations, motivations, and perceived barriers to participation. The responses were then analyzed to identify trends, insights, and potential strategies for improving accessibility and inclusion. Three focus groups were conducted (in Ireland, Germany, and Portugal) with project managers and youth workers, to support the analysis of our survey findings.
The respondents ranged in age from 18 to 59 years, with an average age of 27.5 years. This wide age range indicates that the survey captured the views of a diverse group of individuals in terms of age.
40 participants identified as female, and 25 as male. As the participants filled this survey during Erasmus+ mobilities, this could also indicate a general gender imbalance on these specific projects.
Country of Residence
The respondents were residents of 28 different countries, indicating a geographically diverse participant pool. The most common country of residence among the respondents was Germany, with 5 respondents living there.
The survey included a question about whether respondents consider themselves a migrant or have a migration background. There were 65 responses to this question, with a mix respondents with and without migration backgrounds. However, the majority of participants did connect their identity to migration in some form, which indicates we accessed our target group.
Erasmus+ Mobilities Participation
The respondents reported having participated in between 1 to 15 Erasmus+ Mobilities. The most common response was 4, with 8 respondents having participated in 4 Erasmus+ Mobilities. This indicates a wide range of participation levels in Erasmus+ Mobilities among the respondents. Many were first-time participants, indicating that the organisations involved were attracting newcomers to the program. This indicates that some good practices in communication are already present.
The analysis of the survey responses revealed several key findings:
- Barriers to Participation: Some participants indicated that they had been accepted or interested in an Erasmus+ project but did not go. The reasons for this included financial barriers, study/work obligations, participation fees, and lack of information on the topic. This indicates that beyond just communication of opportunities, key barriers to participation need to be addressed.
- Diverse Expectations and Motivations: Participants had diverse expectations and motivations for participating in Erasmus+ projects, ranging from personal and professional development to cultural exchange and learning opportunities. This is expected and indicates that there is no one-size-fits-all form of communication for opportunities, and that peer-communication could better adapt to specific interests.
- Factors Encouraging Participation: The factors that most frequently encouraged participants to participate in an Erasmus+ Mobility were the theme/topic of the activity, a friend’s recommendation, and familiarity with the topic of the activity. Again, peer-communication is seen as a strong tool for Erasmus+ participation.
- Factors Discouraging Participation: Factors that most frequently discouraged or stopped participants from participating were the setting of a participation fee and the requirement for participants to book their own travel tickets and then be reimbursed. Below we outlined several more specific barriers that participants or would-be participants have faced.
- Promotion of Erasmus+ Activities: Participants suggested various ways to explain and promote Erasmus+ activities to their friends, including emphasizing the benefits, sharing personal experiences, focusing on the fun aspect, highlighting the opportunity for cultural exchange, and promoting the relevance of the activities. Peer-Communication is once again a tool that could facilitate this.
We asked the 65 individuals for reasons they, or their peers, had not attended an international mobility, if they had been accepted to one and had not gone. The following reasons were identified for why some individuals had been accepted or interested in an Erasmus+ project but did not go:
- Study/Work Obligations: Some respondents indicated that they had study or work obligations that prevented them from participating in an Erasmus+ project. This suggests that the timing of Erasmus+ projects may conflict with other commitments for some individuals.
- Financial Barriers: The financial barriers identified in the survey responses, such as the cost of travel, participation fees, and the delay in reimbursement for travel tickets, may disproportionately affect individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. These individuals may not have the financial resources to cover these costs upfront, even if they will be reimbursed later. This could potentially exclude a significant number of individuals who could benefit from the opportunities offered by Erasmus+.
- Information Accessibility: The lack of information or clarity about the Erasmus+ projects was another barrier identified in the survey. This could be particularly challenging for individuals who are not proficient in the language in which the information is provided or who do not have easy access to the internet or other sources of information. There is a lack of trust, even fear, when first engaging with an Erasmus+ opportunity.
- Cultural Representation: Some respondents indicated that having people from the same cultural/ethnic background or gender in the team or organization would encourage them to participate in an Erasmus+ Mobility. This suggests that representation matters and that seeing people from similar backgrounds participating in Erasmus+ can make the program feel more accessible and welcoming. However, if minority groups are underrepresented in Erasmus+ activities, this could discourage potential participants from these groups.
- Cultural Exchange and Learning: While many respondents were motivated by the opportunity for cultural exchange and learning, it’s important to consider how these exchanges are facilitated. Are they designed in a way that values and respects all cultures equally? Are there structures in place to prevent and address potential issues of cultural insensitivity or misunderstanding? If not, this could potentially create an unwelcoming or uncomfortable environment for participants from minority backgrounds.
Based on these findings, the following recommendations are proposed to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of Erasmus+ projects:
- Address Financial Barriers: Consider ways to reduce the financial burden on participants, such as providing more financial support, reducing or eliminating participation fees, and offering quicker reimbursement for travel expenses.
- Improve Information Accessibility: Ensure that information about Erasmus+ projects is clear, comprehensive, and accessible to all potential participants. This could involve providing information in multiple languages and using a variety of communication channels.
- Promote Representation: Strive for diverse representation in Erasmus+ activities, including individuals from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds and genders. Representation can make the program feel more accessible and welcoming to potential participants from minority groups.
- Leverage Personal Testimonials: Encourage past participants to share their positive experiences with Erasmus+. Personal testimonials can be a powerful tool for promoting Erasmus+ activities.
- Highlight Relevance and Benefits: When promoting Erasmus+ activities, emphasize the relevance and appeal of the project topics, as well as the benefits of participation, such as learning opportunities, cultural exchange, personal growth, and professional development.
Non-Inclusive Approaches and Inclusive Alternatives
- Non-Inclusive Approach: One-Size-Fits-All Project Design A project that is designed with a generic participant in mind, without considering the diverse needs, backgrounds, and experiences of potential participants. Inclusive Alternative: Tailored Project Design Design projects with diversity and inclusion in mind from the outset. This could involve conducting a needs assessment to understand the specific needs and interests of potential participants, and then tailoring the project design accordingly. For example, consider the language needs of participants, their financial capabilities, their cultural backgrounds, and their accessibility needs.
- Non-Inclusive Approach: Top-Down Communication Strategy A communication strategy that relies solely on official channels and does not engage participants in the communication process. Inclusive Alternative: Participant-Led Communication Strategy Engage participants as communication multipliers. Encourage participants to share their experiences and promote the project within their own networks. This can help to reach a wider and more diverse audience, and can also make the communication more authentic and relatable.
- Non-Inclusive Approach: Lack of Financial Support Requiring participants to cover their own costs upfront, which can be a significant barrier for individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Inclusive Alternative: Provision of Financial Support Provide financial support to participants, such as covering travel costs or providing scholarships. This can help to remove financial barriers and make the project more accessible to a wider range of participants.
- Non-Inclusive Approach: Lack of Representation Having a team or organization that lacks diversity, which can make the project feel less accessible and welcoming to potential participants from minority groups. Inclusive Alternative: Promotion of Representation Strive for diverse representation in the team or organization. This can make the project feel more accessible and welcoming to potential participants from minority groups.
- Non-Inclusive Approach: Complex Application Process Having a complex and time-consuming application process, which can be a barrier for individuals who do not have easy access to the internet or who are not proficient in the language in which the application is provided. Inclusive Alternative: Simplified Application Process Simplify the application process and provide support to applicants who need it. This could involve providing the application in multiple languages, offering online and offline application options, and providing assistance to applicants who need it.
Ensuring that the Erasmus+ program is accessible and inclusive to all, particularly to migrant learners, is crucial for reinforcing the core values of the European Union. The findings of this study provide some key areas that our COMPASS training can focus on.
The research team also acknowledges that the exclusive Erasmus+ projects are not just the responsibility of project managers and NGOs, but rather structural level issues with the program and the management of the program. Issues such as critically underfunded travel rates, daily rates, and organisational support. Opaque rules on implementation, and limited spaces for beneficiary co-creation of the program, all lead to an environment where being inclusive is difficult from a sheer capacity point-of-view. Here are some steps that could be implemented by the Erasmus+ program to support NGOs to implement Erasmus mobilities in a more inclusive format.
- Increase Funding: Increase the funding allocated to travel rates, daily rates, and organizational support. This would alleviate some of the financial strain on NGOs and enable them to focus more on inclusivity efforts.
- Clarify Rules: Provide clear, concise, and accessible guidelines for implementing Erasmus+ projects. This would help NGOs understand what is expected of them and how they can create more inclusive projects.
- Open Spaces for Co-Creation: Establish platforms or forums where beneficiaries can contribute to the creation and design of Erasmus+ projects. This would ensure that the projects are tailored to the needs and experiences of the beneficiaries, thereby promoting inclusivity.
- Capacity Building: Provide training and resources to NGOs to build their capacity for inclusivity. This could include workshops on inclusive practices, resources on diversity and inclusion, and opportunities to learn from other NGOs that have successfully implemented inclusive projects.
Annex: Quotes from the research
- Quote on Migration and Erasmus+ Participation: “Being a migrant has made me more open to new experiences and cultures. This openness has definitely influenced my decision to participate in Erasmus+.” – This quote highlights the intersection of personal identity (as a migrant) and the decision to participate in Erasmus+, suggesting that personal experiences and identities can influence participation.
- Quote on Barriers to Participation: “I was accepted to an Erasmus+ project but couldn’t go because I couldn’t afford the travel costs upfront.” – This quote underscores the financial barriers that can prevent interested individuals from participating in Erasmus+, even when they have been accepted into a project.
- Quote on Expectations and Motivations: “Before my first Erasmus+ project, I expected to learn a lot and meet new people. What motivated me to come was the opportunity to experience a new culture.” – This quote illustrates the expectations and motivations of Erasmus+ participants, which can be leveraged to encourage more participation.
- Quote on Promoting Erasmus+ Activities: “I would tell my friends that Erasmus+ is a great opportunity to learn, grow, and experience new cultures. It’s not just about travel, it’s about personal development.” – This quote provides insight into how Erasmus+ activities can be effectively communicated and promoted to potential participants.