The terms 'Learning mobility in the field of youth' refer to the mobility of young people across countries, inside and outside Europe, in formal and non-formal learning settings. learning mobility takes place in the frame of exchange programmes with the aim of promoting and developing personal and professional competences, communication, interpersonal and intercultural skills, and active citizenship among others. Learning mobility also contributes to the recognition of youth work and non-formal learning, and to increase opportunities towards employment. At the European - and especially at the EU level, learning mobility is also linked to the wider policy for the mobility of European citizens within the common market and the development of the skills needed to successfully live and work in this European environment.

This policy framework focuses only on the mobility opportunities aimed at the development of attitudes, skills and knowledge of young people.

Political context

Learning mobility in the field of youth is not dealt with in a full scale formal convention at European level and so far the intergovernmental cooperation of the Council of Europe and the (soft) law of the European Union in the field of youth policy have focused on introducing instruments which promote it in a practical sense. In particular, the Council of Europe has been focusing on the promotion of mobility for intercultural learning and integration in the wider Europe and in this way played an important role in recognizing young people's aspirations in Central and Eastern Europe and in fostering East-West youth mobility. The EU has established mobility programmes which address also the specific aim of fostering European citizenship and employability of young people. Today, learning mobility in the youth field is high on the Agenda of both, the Council of Europe and the EU and is also one of the themes on which the two institutions based their partnership in the field of youth established in 1998.

Historical background

Learning mobility across Europe has been promoted by civil society organisations and political institutions since the end of the Second World War as a means to foster intercultural dialogue and peace. In particular, mobility of young people consisted in international workcamps, voluntary activities, schools and university exchanges, mobility of young workers. In the last 40 years the Council of Europe and the European Union have contributed to the transformation of these cross-border mobility experiences into true learning mobility experiences, both supporting the organisations already promoting them, and providing policies and programmes for their further development in outreach and quality.

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe was the first international governmental organization to address this phenomenon at the European level and when the youth sector started opening in the mid-1960s, youth mobility was included among its major themes. The first initiatives in this field have been the European Agreement on young people travelling with collective passports (1961) and the European agreement on ‘au pair' placements (1969). In 1972 the European Youth Foundation (EYF) was established to provide financial support for European youth activities which serve the promotion of peace, understanding and co-operation among young people in Europe.

From the mid-1980s youth mobility became a permanent item on the Ministerial Conferences and the number of texts increased covering specific aspects of mobility as the mobility of youth workers and local policies to promote mobility. In particular, in the 1990s the Council of Europe made four important steps towards the promotion of youth mobility: the Resolution 91(20) instituting a Partial Agreement on the Youth Card for the purpose of promoting and facilitating youth mobility in Europe which gave birth to the European Youth Card Association (EYCA), two Recommendations regarding youth mobility, R(95)18 on Youth Mobility and R(94)4 on the promotion of a voluntary service, and the Solidarity Fund for Youth Mobility (now Mobility Fund by Rail for the Young and the Disadvantaged ) instituted in 1994 in agreement with the International Union of Railways.

European Union

At the end of the 1980s, also the European Union started promoting youth exchanges through specific funding programmes such as ‘Erasmus' (1987) and ‘Youth for Europe' (1988) and the implementation of these mobility programmes represents the first initiative of the European Union in the youth sector. The Treaty on the European Union signed in Maastricht in 1992 recognized this development in Article 149 § 2 which states that the Community action should also be aimed at "encouraging the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socio-educational instructors". Youth mobility became an asset of the EU youth policy through the further development of the funding programmes promoting mobility, in particular a great achievement was the launching of the European Voluntary Service programme.

The most important policy documents which were issued are the  Resolution concerning an action plan for mobility (2000) and the Recommendation for students, persons undergoing training, young volunteers, teachers and trainers (2001) whose principles were then included in the  White Paper ‘‘A New impetus for European Youth'' (2001). In the White Paper the importance of the recognition of specific skills gained through mobility experiences is underlined and youth mobility emerges as a transversal policy which has to be taken into consideration in the field of voluntary activities, information, participation, education and training, employment. The White Paper was followed by the Framework for European co-operation in the field of youth in 2002 which was then updated in 2005 to take into account the European Youth Pact where ‘Education, training and mobility' figure as one of the three strands.
The main focus of the youth mobility programmes promoted by the EU has been the inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities but the number of young people who are able to benefit from the EU mobility programmes remains relatively small at around 380,000 per annum and very often disadvantaged youth is still not reached. However, the Erasmus programme emerges as the big success of the EU policy in this field: more than 2 million university students have participated since it started in 1987.

Main political documents

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe promotes mobility of young people across all its main documents on youth policy, in particular youth mobility is encouraged in the frame of the Recommendation Rec(2004)13 on the participation of young people in local and regional life where an entire article is dedicated to the role of local and regional authorities in the policy for mobility and exchanges; and in the future of the Council of Europe youth policy: AGENDA 2020' (2008).

European Union

In the European Union, an important step towards the removal of the obstacles to youth mobility has been the Council directive 2004/114/EC on the conditions of admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service. In order to reach the objective of promoting Europe as a world centre of excellence for studies, the directive aims at setting up a common legal framework, making it easier for people from outside the European Union to enter and stay in the EU for the purpose of studying, training, research, and volunteering.

Next to the directive tackling the issue of residence permits for young people entering EU for studying and volunteering, several important policy documents have been produced on the topic of learning mobility: The European Quality Charter for Mobility (2006), the Council recommendation on the mobility of young volunteers across the European Union (November 2008), the Conclusions of the Council on youth mobility (December 2008) and the Green Paper on the Learning Mobility of Young People launched in July 2009. Moreover, the promotion of youth mobility is included in the Resolution on a renewed framework of cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018) and ‘increasing learning mobility and opportunities for young people' stands out as one of the three priorities of the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth for the years 2010-2014.

The developments outlined above paved the way to the current main policy paper in the field of learning mobility, the Communication from the Commission "Youth on the Move", issued in June 2011. It is one of the seven flagship initiatives in the frame of the Europe 2020 strategy for a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the European Union, builds on the results of the Green Paper on the Learning Mobility of Young People and is closely linked to the flagship initiative "An Agenda for new skills and jobs" aiming at enhancing geographical mobility throughout the EU. The strategy outlined in "Youth on the Move" is the answer of the EU to the high rate of youth unemployment, aims at preparing young people to face the future challenges of economy and puts the basis for the EU youth mobility programmes post 2013. The Commission published the proposal for the ‘Erasmus for all' programme at the end of 2011, the Council reached a partial general approach on the proposal and the European Parliament published its draft report at the end of 2012. In 2013 the new programme will be finalised.

Snapshots of "Youth on the Move"

The main idea behind "Youth on the Move" is that learning mobility is an important way in which young people can enhance their development as active citizenship and strengthen their future employability both by acquiring new professional competences and developing a positive attitude towards mobility. Therefore the Commission sees in mobility a key instrument to prepare young people to live in the society of the future, be open to new ideas and deal with the unfamiliar, and aims at extending opportunities for learning mobility to all young people in Europe by 2020 by mobilising resources and removing obstacles to pursuing a learning experience abroad.

The strategy aims at supporting ‘a strong development of transnational learning and employment mobility for young people' through the implementation of specific actions focused on monitoring the progress in removing obstacles to mobility and developing tools to foster mobility, support youth employment and inform young people about the existing opportunities through the YoM website. For the promotion of mobility the main tools are the Youth on the Move Card and the European Skills Passport: for the implementation of the YoM Card, a survey was launched in 2011 and the report has been published, while the European Skills Passport was launched in December 2012. For the support to youth employments, the main initiatives are Your first EURES job, European Vacancy Monitor and the Youth guarantee which consists in €4 million to help EU countries get young people into employment, further education or (re)training within 4 months of leaving school: the preparatory action has been launched in August 2012. 

Youth on the Move also envisaged a Council Recommendation on promoting the learning mobility of young people, which has been issued in June 2011: "Youth on the move" — promoting the learning mobility of young people. In the Recommendation, members states are invited to take actions to provide information and guidance on the opportunities available, to increase the motivation of young people to participate in transnational learning mobility activities, to provide preparation of opportunities for learning mobility, particularly with regard to foreign language skills and intercultural awareness, to overcome administrative and institutional issues relating to the learning period abroad, to increase the quality of learning mobility, the portability of loans, the funding and partnerships, the recognition of learning outcomes.

Learning Mobility nowadays...

The youth policy sector of both the Council of Europe and the EU were born with the creation of frameworks to encourage the mobility of young people. However, the phenomenon of Learning mobility in the youth field has not been systematically measured so far because of its high level of fragmentation.

The EU is investing considerable funds and making significant political commitments to encourage youth mobility, therefore the policy in this field should be evidence based and assessed through the setting of benchmarks. The staff working document of the EU indicators in the field of youth (2010) proposes an indicator to measure volunteering mobility therefore trying to gather data on youth mobility in the non-formal education sector, while for the formal education sector the Commission proposed EU benchmarks on learning mobility (2011), focusing in particular on students in higher education and VET. Consequently, in November 2011, the Council conclusions on a benchmark for learning mobility have been published, establishing two benchmarks (HE and VET) and one indicator on youth learning mobility in general, including learning mobility in non-formal contexts, namely youth exchanges or voluntary activities.

During the same meeting the Council conclusions on the eastern dimension of youth participation and mobility were published: the Member states and the Commission are invited to promote youth exchanges and mobility programmes for young people and youth organisations, reduce barriers in mobility, report on the "Youth and the World" field of action of the EU youth strategy, reflecting on barriers to the two-way mobility of young people from countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy, take advantage of cooperation with existing youth information structures.

In September 2011, the report of the implementation of the Directive 2004/114 has been published, revealing the crucial need for a revision of the directive, in fact the level of harmonisation achieved by the Directive is rather weak, since only a few provisions of the Directive are legally binding, and it only tackles the obstacle of residence permits and not yet visas.

As a result of the European Year of Volunteering 2011, two policy documents were issued focusing of the mobility of young volunteers: the ‘Communication on EU Policies and Volunteering: Recognising and Promoting Crossborder Voluntary Activities in the EU' (September 2011) and the European Parliament resolution of 12 June 2012 on recognising and promoting cross-border voluntary activities in the EU.

In 2012, two important documents have been published on topics closely related to learning mobility: the Communication from the Commission ‘Rethinking Education', including the Commission staff working document Language competences for employability, mobility and growth; and the proposal for a Council recommendation on the validation of non-formal and informal learning: in fact both the language competences and the recognition of skills gained outside formal education, would facilitate mobility.

Finally, in June 2012 the European Commission released the outcomes of the ‘Study on Mobility Developments in School Education, Vocational Education and Training, Adult Education and Youth Exchanges' which aimed at mapping the mobility opportunities offered outside the framework of the EU funding programmes.

On the part of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly issued two documents inviting members states to remove obstacles to mobility as an answer to the crisis and youth unemployment: Resolution 1828 (2011) ‘Reversing the sharp decline in youth employment' and the Report ‘The young generation sacrificed: social, economic and political implications of the financial crisis' (2012).

The latest policy developments, the constant attention of the two institutions towards youth mobility and the strong interest of youth organisations on the topic led to the creation of the European Platform on Learning Mobility in the youth field as an initiative of practitioners, researchers and policy makers.

By Elisa Briga