On July 31st the current development cycle of the Erasmus+ App has come to an end. This article looks back to these first chapters of the App’s history that have been an epic journey devoted to improving the experience of all Erasmus students.
In a sunny October 2015 afternoon, an Erasmus student called Lennert wrote an email to the European University Foundation (EUF) that read “I’m going to Madrid with the Erasmus+ programme. The only downside for me of Erasmus+ is the registration and paperwork which takes a lot of time and is sometimes frustrating”. Disappointment about pointless bureaucracy was not exactly new, with such feelings having already been captured in the 2002 L’Auberge Espagnole film.
What caught our eye 7 years ago was that this was not just a disgruntled student complaining; this was a student looking for help to make his graduation thesis on the topic of improving the Erasmus student experience. October 2015 was also when the Erasmus Without Paper and the Online Learning Agreement projects started, so the EUF team promptly agreed to support such an endeavour.
Lennert successfully defended his thesis in June 2006 and shortly after that he joined the EUF team, who was about to start the work on a very special birthday present for the 30th anniversary of Erasmus: the first version of the Erasmus+ App, which would be launched at the European Parliament in June 2017 by the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.
The original iteration of the Erasmus+ App was a gamechanger. For the first time ever, students had extensive advice and guidance on their mobility experience at their fingertips, combining step-by-step checklists with useful tips from other Erasmus+ participants and newsfeeds on local events and activities organised by Erasmus Student Network (ESN) sections. Such was the excitement and positive feedback that a distinct sense that “this was just the beginning” started to take shape.
Start > stop
By the end of 2017, the Erasmus+ App had received a major update to make it possible for students to enjoy more ground-breaking new features, such as the ability to access and easily start preparing their Online Learning Agreements and even receive push notifications from the IROs of their home or host universities. Work was also underway on the prototyping of the Erasmus Virtual Assistant, which would allow students to apply for an Erasmus mobility directly from the Erasmus+ App.
Unfortunately, the future would have to wait just a little bit longer. As it so often happens with EU-funded projects, the support made available by the European Commission in 2017 was coming to an end, and our focus had to shift from adding new functionalities to keeping the Erasmus+ App available to a growing population of students.
Having to stop the work on the Erasmus+ App was not ideal, but the opportunity costs were nothing compared to the actual costs of upkeeping such a vital piece of infrastructure. Surely, to no surprise to anyone, IT systems are not self-sufficient organisms. To keep them running and up-to-date, a wide range of activities are needed: from hosting to regular security updates, complying to the periodic mobile operating system updates (Android and iOS), preventive maintenance and the obligation to provide support to users. In addition to all of the above, in the spring of 2018, the GDPR came into force, compounding compliance-related costs further.
Faced with the daunting options of terminating the Erasmus+ App or investing heavily to ensure its continued availability throughout 2018 and 2019, the EUF and its member universities chose the latter. This was a truly taxing effort for a network of universities to take upon itself, but we take great pride to have ensured the continued availability of such a useful piece of infrastructure to a population that continued to grow to more than 100,000 mobile students, and whose positive feedback was essential to fuel such work.
Stop > start
As of the beginning of 2020, the Erasmus+ App entered a new phase, as the European Commission decided to become more actively involved in the App’s upkeeping and development. Further to a competitive tendering process, the Eötvös Loránd University, the EUF and ESN joined forces to finish the work that had been started back in 2017. For the following two and a half years, we worked tirelessly to make sure the Erasmus+ App would finally play the central role it deserves in Europe’s mobility ecosystem, implementing close to 100 use cases that harked back to the preceding ideation and implementation phases of 2017. The new Erasmus+ App was also to be more robust, more scalable and better connected, serving as a one-stop shop for mobile students to access as much useful resources as technically possible.
Raising the bar
The version of the Erasmus+ App that was launched at the final conference hosted by Eötvös Loránd University in March 2022 offers students so many features that they are simply too many to provide a detailed overview – but here are some of our favourites:
- Like before, the Erasmus+ App offers structured information about the different Erasmus+ mobility opportunities – but now all of this is available in the 23 official languages of the European Union.
- The Mobility Journey pages expand on the step-by-step checklists of information and relevant tasks to guide students through the most important milestones of mobility before, during, and after their stay abroad.
- The Erasmus+ App also serves as a platform for sharing crowdsourced content such as tips, events, stories, living costs and discounts, streamlining information from fellow students and student organisations, as well as from higher education institutions.
- The Erasmus+ App centralises access to a variety of services connected to the Erasmus+ programme, such as the Online Learning Agreement or the Erasmus Skills self-evaluation tools.
- The Erasmus+ App now puts the European Student Card at the click of a button for all students whose universities are already issuing the European Student Identifier.
- And, finally, it also provides the possibility of a fully digital application procedure for Erasmus+ study mobility participants.
A new custodian
There are no doubts that the Erasmus+ App has become a modern, useful and coveted infrastructure component for the digital age we live in. A lot has been achieved, and a lot more can be done still to make the Erasmus+ App the beating heart of a programme that puts students and their incredible experience first.
Accordingly, since the end of the current contract, the ownership of the Erasmus+ App changed. The EUF transferred the Erasmus+ App intellectual property rights to the European Commission, who will henceforth act as its new custodian. The EUF, ELTE and ESN will remain involved in its continued development in the context of the European Student Card Initiative, whose framework will in principle guarantee that the difficult days experienced in 2018 and 2019 will never come to pass.
The Erasmus+ App has been a truly extraordinary journey so far, and its potential is nowhere near exhausted. In fact, the forthcoming integration of the Erasmus+ App and Erasmus Without Papers has the potential to revolutionise not just the application for mobility but also better support students in finding accommodation abroad, ease the process of issuing certificates of arrival and automatise the delivery of Transcripts of Records, among others. And there is always room to improve, to become more fitting for the emerging needs even when talking about existing features and capabilities that could be further enhanced and extended.
There is still work to be done. And a new chapter to begin…
Cover photo by Keira Burton