Meet the woman who changed Europe by founding the Erasmus programme
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At the height of last summer, a remarkable Italian professor by the name of Sofia Corradi travelled to Spain to receive the prestigious Carlos V European Award. In a ceremony presided over by the Spanish Royal Family, the award, some of whose previous recipients include Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev, might well have gone to Corradi for her personal achievements alone. Her remarkable career includes work at New York City’s Columbia University, at the UN Commission on Human Rights, and at the London School of Economics. Corradi has taught for over fifty years at the Three State University in Rome, authoring countless journals in several languages, including English, French, Spanish and Russian. But Corradi, the second woman to receive the award, was garlanded instead for an achievement that has changed the lives of millions across the continent: The Erasmus Exchange Programme, which this year marks its 30th birthday. Corradi began lobbying for such a program in the 1960s, it taking her over 20 years to get it up and running in 1987. Today, Erasmus, named after a 15th century philosopher who travelled the world in search of new knowledge, allows students to immerse themselves in nearby, but often very different, European countries. The award committee, which seeks to emphasise achievements of diversity, understanding and freedom, chose Corradi with the knowledge that over 3.5 million European students in 28 countries, and across 4,000 universities, have benefited from her legacy since the program began. Evoking Carlos V, after whom the award is named and whose empire it was said the sun would never set, the professor added that ‘in a more peaceful world than the one we see today Erasmus will become a global project, on which the sun will also never set.’ I can remember the excitement with which I read an email from the University of Oslo last spring, informing me that they’d be delighted to have me as an Erasmus exchange student in Norway for a year. Since arriving here I have greatly enjoyed the programme’s two main benefits – the lack of any additional tuition fees, and the opportunity to meet students from all around Europe. Spain, France and Germany are both the largest receivers and senders of foreign students; the UK ranks fourth, but sends only half as many students as it receives. Whilst here, I have met students from beyond Europe, from places such as Korea, Australia and the United States, but it still seems as if us Europeans have the best deal. According to the Insitute of International Education, about 10% of all European students now study abroad, in comparison to just 1% of US students whole enrol in similar programmes. It is not difficult to understand why the Italian writer Umberto Eco wrote in La Stampa a few years ago, hailing the programme for creating ‘a new generation of young Europeans.’ Eco’s comments were more literal than he may have intended, as recent studies have found that a quarter of all Erasmus students meet long-term partners on their overseas adventures, and that such relationships have produced an additional million European babies since 1987.
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