The term 'Learning mobility in the field of youth' refers 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. The competences developed by youth taking part in mobility experiences contribute also to the recognition of youth work and non-formal learning, and to the increase of employment opportunities. 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 mainly on the policies related to mobility opportunities in the context of non formal learning.


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 development of these cross-border mobility experiences, both supporting the organisations already promoting them, and providing policies and programmes for increasing outreach and quality of youth mobility.

Learning mobility in the field of youth is not dealt within a full-scale formal convention at European level. So far the intergovernmental cooperation of the Council of Europe and the legislation of the European Union in the field of youth policy have focused on introducing instruments which promote it in a practical sense, such as funding programmes, and enhance cooperation among Member states on the topic.

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 recognising young people's aspirations in Central, South-East and Eastern Europe and fostered East-West youth mobility, with new Member States from these geographical areas joining in the 90s and 2000s.

At the end of the 80s, the EU has established mobility programmes which address the specific aim of fostering European citizenship and employability of young people, and Member states have adopted several Council recommendations and conclusions to guide the developments of national and European policies in this respect.

Learning mobility in the youth field is one of the themes on which the two institutions based the Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth when this was established in 1998.

The phenomenon of learning mobility in the youth field has not been systematically measured and studied because of its high level of fragmentation. Given the considerable funds and significant political commitments made to promote youth mobility, the EU and the Council of Europe have also encouraged research and setting of benchmarks in the field.

Important steps in this direction have been made in 2011, when the two institutions, with the support of Erasmus+ National agencies and youth organizations, created the European Platform on Learning Mobility in the youth field , managed by the Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth (EU-CoE youth partnership). This has been the first initiative to gather all stakeholders concerned, namely practitioners, researchers, policy makers and young people, to foster dialogue, innovation and evidence-based policy in the sector.

Since then, several efforts have been made in the field of research on learning mobility in the field of youth. The Council conclusions on a benchmark for learning mobility issued in 2011 included the proposal of establishing an indicator on youth mobility in general, therefore indicators were developed and have been included in the statistical part of the EU Youth Report and in the Eurobarometer. Moreover, there has been a first attempt to map the non-EU funded mobility programmes (June 2012), and the EU-CoE youth partnership has published several studies - Learning mobility and non-formal learning in European contexts and Learning mobility, social inclusion and non-formal education-, a dedicated edition of the Coyote magazine, and the Framework on Quality in Learning Mobility in the Youth Field with accompanying indicators and handbook.

Finally, the RAY network – Research based analysis of Youth in Action-, an initiative of several Erasmus+ National agencies, provides data related to the EU youth mobility programmes and its impact, and the website of the EACEA National Policy Platforms now offers the Youth Wiki which includes an overview of youth mobility policies in the EU countries.

An historical overview of European policy on learning mobility in the youth field
Council of Europe

The Council of Europe was the first international governmental organisation to address this phenomenon at the European level in 1956 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 a number of texts covering specific aspects of mobility, such as the mobility of youth workers and local policies to promote mobility, were adopted. In particular, in the 1990s the Council of Europe made 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 and the recommendations (95)18 on Youth Mobility and (94)4 on the promotion of a voluntary service. Several other texts related to the topic of ‘youth exchanges’ have been adopted by the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly from the 50s to the 90s and are available here.

As from the late 80s, the European Union has taken the lead in the development of large scale youth mobility programmes and subsequently of related policies. As from the late 90s the role of Council of Europe has been the one of continuing to support Member states in youth policy development related to this topic, and support quality international youth work through the European Youth Foundation. More recently, youth mobility has been encouraged in the frame of the Recommendation (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).

Following the economic crisis of 2008, the CoE 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).

European Union

At the end of the 1980s, 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 recognised 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 the key feature of the EU youth policy and related funding programmes were developed further: in particular a great achievement was the launching of the European Voluntary Service programme in 1996.

Following the creation of mobility programmes and the inclusion of youth mobility in the EU Treaties, policy documents were issued, such as 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 youth mobility emerges as a transversal policy and specific attention is given to the recognition of competences gained through mobility experiences. The White Paper was followed by the first 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' figures as one of its three strands.

In the same period, the Lisbon strategy was lunched, setting ambitious objectives for Education&Training in the EU by 2010 and promote Europe as a world centre of excellence for studies.

In fact, youth mobility is not only about Europeans having exchange experiences within Europe (and beyond), but it is also about providing opportunities for young people from so-called ‘third countries’ to enter the EU for learning purposes. In order to support this objective, the Council adopted the directive 2004/114/EC aimed 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 purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service. Also, in 2009 the visa code was adopted and provided young people from third countries with better conditions to enter the EU with a 3 month Schengen visa for youth exchanges and youth events.

At the end of the 2000s, several new initiatives were undertaken: the creation of a tool for recognition of competences developed through youth mobility projects, namely the Youthpass, 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 (July 2009). Thanks to this focus on youth mobility, the topic was included in the Renewed framework of cooperation in the youth field (so called EU Youth Strategy),under two priorities – education and training, and voluntary activities –,and in September 2010 the European Commission launched the Communication "Youth on the Move" (YoM) and the Council adopted the related recommendation. It is one of the seven flagship initiatives in the frame of the Europe 2020 strategy for a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, 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" was 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 laid the basis for the EU youth mobility programmes post 2013.

The YoM initiative had as main outcomes:

The YoM approached for the first time youth in a holistic way, looking at mobility within both formal and non formal education together to give answers to the needs of young people for the transition from education to work. In fact, its focus, rather than on non formal education topics typical of youth policy, has been on labour mobility, identification of skills, mobility opportunities within VET and apprenticeships, and launched the idea of the ‘Youth guarantee’. The YoM initiative ended in 2014, when the Commission Juncker (2014-2019) started and the new Erasmus+ programme (2014-2020) was launched. However, its legacy can still be seen eight years after, especially as it has deeply influenced the creation of Erasmus+ which merged 7 of the prior existing programmes and provided space for cross-sectorial cooperation.

The most recent developments
Council of Europe

In 2017 the Council of Europe adopted two documents which have an influence in the field of learning mobility, namely the Competence framework for democratic culture (CDC), and the Recommendation (2017)4 on Youth work. The CDC provides a clear indication to formal education systems on how to develop competences that are the key objective of learning mobility programmes, and therefore can be seen as a useful resource for improving the quality of youth mobility. The Recommendation on youth work aims at providing guidelines on how to strengthen the youth work sector, where youth mobility programmes are rooted. Finally, in 2017 the CDEJ (European Steering Committee for Youth) has adopted its self-assessment tool on youth policy where youth mobility is one of the six major areas of youth policy.

European Union

The Erasmus+ programme 2014-2020 with its 14.7 billion budget aims at reaching 4 million people, and its main objectives are to reduce youth unemployment and promote participation of young people in democratic life. Within the Juncker Commission, the programme fits under the priorities ‘Jobs growth and investment’ and ‘A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union’ and its European Pillar of Social rights. Along these lines, Juncker in 2016 launched the New Skills Agenda and the initiative Investing in Europe's Youth which covers three key areas of cross-sectoral dimension and of critical importance for young people: better opportunities through education and training, solidarity, participation, learning mobility, and employment. This initiative includes the European Solidarity Corps programme which will be hopefully adopted in June 2018 and replaces the European Voluntary Service.

Although the Erasmus+ programme and the policies put in place in the field of youth for the period up to 2020 were mostly focused on the development of skills for employment, in 2015 a different focus emerged due to recent developments in European society. It is worth mentioning that EU Ministers of Education adopted the Declaration on Promoting Citizenship, common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination (so called Paris Declaration) in March 2015 and Erasmus + mobility programmes became one of the main tools to implement its principles, therefore adding a strong social inclusion and intercultural dialogue dimension to the programme which lacked it at the beginning. The European Parliament report ‘The role of intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education in promoting EU fundamental values’ underlines the key role of mobility programmes in this respect.

Youth mobility has been linked even more with the objective of social inclusion. In fact, EU mobility programmes have had inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities as their focus since their start, but have been reaching a relatively small number of young people falling under this target. Currently, the Erasmus+ programme claims to reach the double of disadvantaged youth set in the target. However, this follows a very broad definition of people with fewer opportunities and the data is not comparable with the predecessor programmes[1]. Youth exchanges are the action within the EU youth programme involving the highest number of people,100.000 every year, and 30% come from a disadvantaged background[2].

In the same period of migration crisis, the European Commission has launched the revision of the legislations related to the entry of third country nationals in the EU. It has not been the best timing since Member states were resistant to re-negotiate external borders policy: the new 2004 directive was adopted in 2016, the visa code is still under discussion since the European Commission ended up withdrawing its first proposals and in March 2018 issued a new proposal for a regulation.

Although preserving security of external borders and promoting learning mobility of young people from third countries have been objectives not easy to conciliate, the EU has kept a special attention in facilitating mobility of young people from EU neighbouring countries, calling on special measures targeting the ‘Eastern Partnership’, encouraging EU-Africa cooperation in this field, and in 2018 launched the initiative of Erasmus+ Virtual Exchanges to enhance contacts between young people from the EU and the South Mediterranean region.

Finally, this increasing attention to social inclusion and EU common values led to a Commission Communication on Education and Culture to strengthen European identity in November 2017, which is announcing a ‘European Education Area by 2025’ and setting the key principles and targets on which the new Erasmus+ programme post 2020 will be built.

Another recent initiative by the European Commission which aims at expanding access to mobility is the preparatory action DiscoverEU, providing 15.000 Interrail tickets to young people turning 18 years old.

An evaluation so far…and what is coming next

In 2017 the EU celebrated the 30 years of Erasmus and took the chance to give visibility to the outcomes of all mobility programmes which developed afterwards and are now merged in one programme, Erasmus+.

In the same year, discussions on the future of the EU Youth Strategy post-2018 and of Erasmus+ post-2020 started. For the first time, the EU institutions aim at aligning the funding programme with the political strategy in the field of youth.

In relation to the EU youth strategy, the European Commission released its evaluation in 2016, and the EU Council has expressed in 2017 in its Conclusions on strategic perspectives for European cooperation in the youth field post 2018 that learning mobility will continue to be fundamental in determining future European cooperation in the youth field. In 2016 and 2017, young people have been involved in discussions on the future of Europe through the initiative New Narrative for Europe and in the final declaration Freedom of movement features among one of the four objectives. In addition, in 2017-2018, 48.000 young people have been consulted through the EU structured dialogue on the future of the EU youth strategy and have defined 11 youth goals which tackle learning mobility under the goal ‘European programmes’ and ‘Quality learning’. The proposal from the European Commission on the new EU Youth Strategy is expected for 16th May.

In relation to the Erasmus+, the European Parliament published its report on the implementation of the programme in January 2017 and the European Commission released its mid-term evaluation on 1st February 2018. Based on the mid-term evaluation and the public consultation, the European Commission has been drafting the proposal for the Erasmus+ budget and actions for the period 2021-2027.The budget proposal proposes to double the size of Erasmus+ and to establish a separate European Solidarity Corps programme. According to the published text, the focus will be on inclusiveness, and to reach more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will allow more young people to move to another country to learn or work. A more powerful Erasmus+ programme will reach a size of EUR 30 billion over the period and also include an amount of EUR 700 million for Interrail passes for young people.

[1] Erasmus+ mid-term evaluation, ICF

[2] Data provided in the Erasmus+ 30 anniversary statistics (Infographics, 7 sectors)

By Elisa Briga

May 2018