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Coordination is key for Erasmus+

The Gazette’s reviews supremo Wayne Trotman describes how his appointment as a Turkish university’s Erasmus+ coordinator led to a steep learning curve in Italy

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A few months ago, following an afternoon of teaching essay writing, I received a phone call from the ELT director at Izmir Katip Çelebi University (IKÇU), one of Turkey’s newest, who said he had an interesting offer. I’d heard such things before and knew they tended to involve extra work, so it was with mixed feelings that I ambled down the corridor to meet my destiny.

‘You like travelling and dealing with folks from other countries, don’t you?’ he began, to which I nodded. ‘And you’re still on good terms with the International Office here, I hope?’ I nodded again in agreement. ‘So how would you like to assist me as Erasmus cocoordinator?’ he continued. I accepted but mumbled how I knew little about such matters, and he mentioned there would be an Erasmus+ staff training week taking place in Padova, near Venice, about a month later, at which I could learn everything I needed to know.

After a hasty email to EL Gazette HQ requesting back copies of Erasmus-related articles I’d previously seen, I hauled myself down to Turkish Airlines and booked tickets to Venice. An intense mugging-up period followed in which I was given access to details of our first batch of fifty outgoing students and told how, if we didn’t spend our budget, the national Erasmus agency here in Turkey would take a dim view and reduce our allowance for the forthcoming year. Thus, and only wishing to help out of course, I ordered a smashing new printer-scanner-copier for my soon-to-be Erasmus+ office.

Moving on a month, after collecting my allowance of euros with which to negotiate a busy week in Italian cafes and restaurants I found myself seated in seminars at the Universita Degli Studi Di Padova with twenty-five others from mainly France, Spain and Germany. This was a totally new experience for me as my background is of course ELT, but the room was soon filled with people from Lithuania and Latvia, and Norway and Romania, and all talking the talk that Erasmus coordinators talk – ‘incoming and outgoing students’ and ‘bilateral agreements’ seemed to be oft-repeated phrases. I just nodded sagely every now and then and made a note to try to use them correctly later in the week. I think I must have pulled it of as on the last day I was presented with an end-of-course certificate stating that I had ‘successfully attended’.

My personal learning curve during the Padova training week was pretty steep. Day one was devoted to acquiring survival Italian and a tour of the 800-year-old university at which Galileo taught. Day two went straight to the heart of things, with sessions on monitoring Erasmus+ outgoing student behaviour and presentations on best practice. Day three was devoted to enabling communication among outgoing students by setting up a Facebook page and a campus radio station. Strongly emphasised in the training week was making mobility more inclusive by enabling larger numbers of disabled students to participate. Day four covered the care of incoming Erasmus+ students – how to accommodate them and ensure their good health.

Back in Turkey I attended a debriefing session with Yasemin Tutar, who is responsible for incoming and outgoing students at IKÇU. She explained that although many places were available within the seventy bilateral agreements we had set up within just one year, many students from Turkey were unable to find the funding necessary to top-up their Erasmus+ allowance in order to pay for visas and the relatively high cost of living in countries like England and Norway.

Yasemin added that IKÇU intended to address the current imbalance between incoming and outgoing students by setting up a direct online communication facility from the IKÇU Erasmus webpage to her own computer. ELT director Dr Aşkın Yıldırım, my fellow Erasmus+ coordinator at IKÇU, had the following to say: ‘As a university with a high degree of interest in developing an international reputation, it’s vital that we give all our students enough opportunities and support to engage in mobility within the current Erasmus+ framework.’

A final comment for institutions considering sending Erasmus students to Turkey – with one of the best cuisines in the world, a generally mild climate most of the year, not to mention the warmth and hospitality Turkish people are famous for, a very pleasant mobility period is ensured.

Wayne Trotman is responsible for all Erasmus+ bilateral learning agreements at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Turkey

Turkey figures:

The National Erasmus Agency in Turkey states that the budget for university mobility programmes increased relatively slowly from €21,000 in 2008 to €33,000 for 2011. For the next three years (2011–14) it rose steeply, from €35,000 to €51,000. The number of outgoing students from Turkey rose by 20 per cent, from 10,268 to 12,356, in just one year (2012–13). Over the same period the number of incoming students showed a similar increase from 4,557 to 5,262, a huge imbalance that Turkey needs to address.