Learning to speak the language on inclusion together with students is crucial to move towards equity and inclusion in education and training systems and provide learning mobility opportunities to all. Institutions can help their students overcome obstacles; however, individual efforts will not address systemic barriers obstructing equal access. Top-up grants are a positive first step but should be accompanied with non-financial support in the future. These were some of the key points raised during a webinar on inclusiveness of student mobility, jointly organised by Neth-ER, ISO and LSVb, in which participants explored how Erasmus+ can provide an effective ‘plus’ for underrepresented groups.

Moving towards inclusiveness of student mobility

How to foster inclusive student mobility

How do we move towards inclusive student mobility in Europe, and provide learning mobility opportunities to a wider range of learners? The webinar ‘Fostering a common understanding of inclusion in the European Education Area’ aimed to answer these questions, by discussing the renewed efforts on inclusion within Erasmus+ and exchanging best practices for student-centred approaches. Neth-ER, ISO and LSVb welcomed Janine Costa, the chair of the Education Committee under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU who provided a keynote speech on European efforts on inclusion in education, now and in the future. Vicky Reichling, equality coordinator at the European Students’ Union (ESU) presented why student mobility opportunities are important for all, who experiences barriers, and what can be done. Matteo Vespa, Executive Committee Member of the ESU, hosted a panel conversation with Christelle Coët-Amette from the French National Agency (NA) for Erasmus+, Kam Wai Kui from the Amsterdam University of the Arts (AHK) and Abigail Tjhay from the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

Embrace and support diversity

Costa pointed out that a students’ socioeconomic background still largely determines educational success in Europe. The strategic framework for European cooperation in Education and Training (E&T) towards the European Education Area (by 2025) and beyond (up until 2030) prioritizes quality, inclusion and equity and success in education for all. Mobility for all students, learners, teachers, teacher trainers and staff should continue to be a key element for EU cooperation and act as a tool for better quality and inclusion in education. Costa emphasized that further efforts must be made to remove barriers to all types of learning, as underlined by recent Council conclusions on the topic. E&T systems have the task to address the existing and growing diversity of society, ensuring that each learner enjoys not only formal but also effective equal access. Particular attention should be given to learners with additional and overlapping challenges, ranging from disabilities, socio-economic background, ethnic, religious and/or cultural background, to living in economically depressed regions.

Why, who, what?

But, why should mobility be offered to more students? Reichling presented figures illustrating how learning mobility fosters employability. Erasmus+ mobility participants are 23% less likely to be unemployed 5 years after graduation. Besides, they build up relevant skills and competences, as well as a sense of belonging to the EU. Then, who needs to be reached? Statistics show that nearly half of the students in underrepresented groups come from families without a background in tertiary education. Older students, who often have a job to finance their studies, also seem to be less likely to study abroad. Also, students with caretaking responsibilities, who seem to be more often enrolled in vocational E&T or professional higher education, more often miss out on the opportunity than their peers. With Covid-19, these issues have been enlarged by loss of employment and increase of caretaking responsibilities. So, what can be done? First, funding support is of great importance. Reichling underlined that 70% of underrepresented students would need at least 75% of mobility costs to be covered. Measures that cut finances when exceeding study duration put even more pressure on students, discouraging them from going abroad. Next to finances, flexible study paths are necessary to facilitate combining studying, employment, and caretaking. While blended learning is becoming more and more relevant, physical mobility needs to become more accessible and cannot be replaced by virtual mobility.

Lessons from the panellists

Matteo Vespa led the panel conversation on policy practices, focussing on the EU flagship programme for learning mobility, Erasmus+, its priority on inclusion and the recently introduced financial top-up for mobility actions granted to students with fewer opportunities[1].

Identifying and addressing students’ needs

  • Coët-Amette (NA France) explained how in France the top-up grant goes to a specific target group.The top-up is granted based on social criteria for national scholarship programmes to students with currently the least opportunities. They hope to see a positive evolution in the next seven years of these categories participating in Erasmus+ mobility actions.
  • Tjhay (UvA) indicated that at an institutional level in the Netherlands, the biggest obstacle in identifying needs is the lack of access to data.  She added that in order to start moving towards equity, it has to be clear what the playing field is at this moment. Without this information, taking away barriers and dismantling unequal systems will remain a huge challenge.
  • A first step to identify needs, barriers and recognize blind spots within the institution, is to talk with all stakeholders. Both at the AHK and the UvA an effort is being made to really listen to representatives of underrepresented students. A tailored approach includes listening to current students, alumni, as well as to student advisors and internationalization coordinators.
  • Kui (AHK) explained how the institution itself is also still learning and developing, especially when it comes to inclusion. It is time to learn the language on inclusion, engage with students, and always ask “What can be done to help you?”. When it comes to giving out a top-up grant, the threshold has to remain low and without judgement, and the decision also needs to be based on trust.

Reaching a wider range of students

  • Financial issues tend to be indicators of other underlying obstacles, rather than being the primary obstacle itself, affirmed Tjhay and Kui. Although a top-up alone might not help when trying to reach more students, extra financial support could indeed be a useful incentive, added Kui. It helps individual students overcome barriers to go on mobility, even without addressing systemic barriers.
  • For many students within underrepresented groups, self-identification with student mobility is absent. As such, providing information and creating awareness is of vital importance. Kui remarked that information should be made more accessible through digitalization and visualization. Coët-Amette pointed out the importance of contact with peers, and the role of student associations as well as teachers to provide examples. She invited participants to increase visibility, for example through the Erasmus Days from 14 to 17 October 2021.


Reflecting on the panel, Costa emphasized how Erasmus+ increasingly is, and should be, a ‘plus’ for those with initially fewer opportunities. Particularly because of the benefits for the individual student, more effort is needed to make physical learning mobility a viable opportunity for all. Neth-ER director Jurgen Rienks recapped that there is a pressing need to address existing and growing diversity in education systems. Education providers are also learning as institutions. In this process, it is crucial to talk to students and student representatives, inviting students to tell what’s needed while also being cautious that procedures do not add any new obstacles. For now, top-up grants provide a solution to overcome certain obstacles that prevent students from participating in student mobility. In the future, a top-up should include more than just financial support, as financial obstacles tend to be symptoms of other underlying, and often overlapping, obstacles.


This webinar was jointly organised by Neth-ER and the national Students’ Unions of the Netherlands ISO and LSVb. The recording of the webinar is available here.


The resource inclusivemobility.eu, developed by ESN International and SIHO, provides tools and advise for institutions and students.


[1] The Regulation of 20 May 2021 establishing Erasmus+: the Union Programme for education and training, youth and sport defines “people with fewer opportunities” as “people who, for economic, social, cultural, geographical or health reasons, due to their migrant background, or for reasons such as disability or educational difficulties or for any other reason, including a reason that could give rise to discrimination under Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, face obstacles that prevent them from having effective access to opportunities under the Programme”.