30. Juni 2016 | von Marcel Henry Kommentieren

"Erasmus" & ERASMUS

If people today talk of "Erasmus" is not about the humanist Desiderius Erasmus himself, but rather the European student exchange programme. Run a search for "Erasmus" on the internet and you will be rewarded with just as many hits about students studying abroad as about the great Humanist from Rotterdam. 

Screenshot of a Google Search by Image on "Erasmus"

Many young adults and students these days associate "Erasmus" with the chance to travel and broaden their horizons. Cédric Klapisch’s film L’Auberge Espagnole released in 2002 is at least in part to blame for this. Both the film itself and the adventures it inspired were a formative experience for the generation of 25- to 45-year-olds, impressing on them an image of Europe that many still hold dear today. 

Trailer of "L’Auberge Espagnole"

But back to the student exchange programme: Since it was first launched in 1987, nearly three million students have seized the opportunity to spend a semester or two in a country other than their own. Most retain a fondness for their former host country and its people their whole life long, which in turn is an important factor in promoting European solidarity.

Interview with Dr. Adrie van der Laan on Erasmus von Rotterdam and the exchange programme

Some have calculated that the relationships formed by Erasmus students studying abroad have given rise to over a million babies! An Erasmus student exchange is almost always a life-changing experience. Being a foreigner among foreigners makes us both more receptive to other ways of looking at the world and more conscious of our own roots. "The Erasmus programme won’t necessarily make you a better mathematician, but it will make you a better European," as the head of the umbrella organization of Europe’s academic exchange services once remarked. 

The Erasmus programme featured prominently in the debate sparked by a motion to curtail freedom of movement that two years ago was the subject of a Opens external link in new windowSwiss referendum. When the motion was approved, the EU responded by blocking Switzerland’s participation in the Erasmus programme. Students in Lucerne and other Swiss cities took to the streets to protest against this decision and against using higher education as a political football. Thanks to an interim solution proposed by the Swiss government, Swiss students can still study abroad for at least one or two semesters – albeit at a cost to Swiss taxpayers of 22.7 million francs in 2015 and 23.9 million francs in 2016.

But what does the Erasmus student exchange programme have to do with Erasmus of Rotterdam? Very little indeed, since ERASMUS is in fact just an acronym for EuRopean community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. But there are good reasons why this acronym met with such enthusiastic approval when the programme was first launched back in the 1980s. Erasmus, who in the early 16th-century was revered throughout Europe, was at the hub of a vast network of scholars who visited each other and exchanged letters bursting with ideas, support, and inspiration. Shortly before his death, moreover, Erasmus created a stipend to be granted to students from poor backgrounds enrolled at the University of Basel. Clearly he believed that lack of means should not be an obstacle to study and travel.

Original document of the stipend of Erasmus (UB Basel, C VIa 71, fol. 73r.)

The document by which this stipend was created is part of the collection of the University Library Basel. On the left handside is the end of the German text and on the right, in Latin, the undertakings to which every recipient of the stipend was bound by oath. The foundation that was to fund the stipend was notarized by one Adelberg Salzmann. What few additional comments there are, are in the hand of Bonifacius Amerbach.

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