6.5 Cross-border learning mobility
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There are various programmes and measures in Germany – at government level, federal state level, municipal level and foundation level – that help to promote cross-border learning mobility. Leading institutions in this regard include, in particular, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) and the Federal Foreign Office. Responsibility for international exchange in the area of school education lies with the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) as the permanent representation of the Ministers for Education and Cultural Affairs of the federal states.
In recent years, the topic of cross-border mobility in the field of vocational education and training (VET) has become increasingly important in the political discussion. Politicians and social partners consider the proportion of trainees who complete a period abroad as part of their training to be a key indicator of the attractiveness of the German VET system. The German Government’s Strategy for the Internationalisation of Education, Science and Research, adopted in 2017 under the leadership of the BMBF, already agreed measures to increase the proportion of trainees with experience abroad as part of the target area ‘International expansion of education and training’, and set a target of 10 per cent per year. Likewise, the coalition agreement (Koalitionsvertrag) of 2021 also underlined the topic’s considerable importance. The Excellence for VET Initiativ (Exzellenzinitiative Berufliche Bildung), which was launched by the BMBF in December 2022, again addresses the topic of mobility in vocational education and training. One of the goals of the Excellence Initiative is to make vocational education and training more international. In order to increase the proportion of trainees with experience abroad, the initiative agrees to further develop existing programmes and make them more flexible and inclusive. In addition, it proposes to look at the possibility of establishing a German Vocational Exchange Service (DBAD).
The German Government’s Strategy for the Internationalisation of Education, Science and Research also addresses cross-border mobility in higher education. The objective is for one in two graduates to gain study-related experience abroad and one in three graduates to be able to demonstrate having spent a period abroad of at least three months and/or 15 ECTS credits. The targets defined by the Internationalisation Strategy are in line with those already set down in the Strategy of the Federal and Land Ministers of Science for the Internationalisation of the Higher Education. Institutions in Germany of 2013 (Available in German).
At federal level, the BMFSFJ is responsible for international youth exchange; the main funding instrument here is the Federal Child and Youth Plan (Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes, KJP). The task of the KJP is to stimulate the activities of child and youth welfare at federal level. Among other things, the funding supports out-of-school measures geared to international youth and expert exchanges to implement bilateral or multilateral agreements, agreements under international law and EU regulations. The Federal Foreign Office supplements international youth exchange as part of Germany’s foreign cultural and education policy. The Report of the German Government on Foreign Cultural and Educational Policy (Bericht der Bundesregierung zur Auswärtigen Kultur- und Bildungspolitik) for the year 2021 sets out the different formats and thematic priorities of funding.
Since school education in Germany is the responsibility of the federal states, international exchange in the school sector is the task of the KMK. For example, the KMK is home to the Educational Exchange Service (Pädagogischer Austauschdienst, PAD), which is the sole public organisation in Germany working on behalf of the federal states for international exchange and cooperation in the school sector.
For more information on the policy framework, see also the Mobility Scoreboard and Eurydice: Germany – Mobility and Internationalisation. Information about International Youth Exchange can also be found in the Youth Wiki chapter ‘Youth in the World’.
An important role in promoting cross-border learning mobility in Germany is played by the European funding programme Erasmus+, which from 2021 to 2027 is supporting activities in the field of school education, higher education, vocational training, adult education, youth and sport. Erasmus+ is divided into three key actions, with Key Action 1 relating to the learning mobility of individuals, Key Action 2 cooperation between organisations and Key Action 3 support for policy reform. In addition to the EU funding, various programmes at federal, state and foundation level help to promote mobility.
Mobility in vocational education and training (VET)
In the area of vocational education and training, Erasmus+ supports periods abroad for trainees, teachers and trainers as well as collaboration on European cooperation. The contact for Erasmus+ in VET is the National Agency Education for Europe at the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (NA at BIBB).
- Trainees have the opportunity to complete a work placement abroad in Europe for several weeks as part of Erasmus+. Only educational institutions such as training organisations or vocational schools can apply for funding – not individuals. If an individual’s own training organisation or vocational school does not participate in Erasmus+, trainees can apply for a pool place. During their stay abroad, trainees continue to receive their training allowance; the Erasmus+ grant includes subsistence and travel costs. The size of the grant depends on the destination country and duration of the stay. For more information, see the Erasmus+ brochure for trainees (available in German).
- Teachers at vocational schools and trainers in companies can also spend a period abroad funded by Erasmus+, for example as part of a teaching assignment, job shadowing or a training course. Here, too, grants are paid towards travel and accommodation expenses and, if applicable, course costs; the amount depends on the duration of the stay and destination country. More detailed information can be found in the brochures for companies (available in German) and vocational schools (available in German).
- Finally, funding is also available for partnerships between private or public VET institutions and corresponding institutions in other European countries that serve the goal of cross-border exchange or European cooperation. In the context of so-called Small-scale Partnerships (Kleinere Partnerschaften), involving at least two partner institutions, activities such as project meetings or public relations work are eligible for funding of EUR 30,000 to EUR 60,000. Larger cooperation projects (Kooperationspartnerschaften), on the other hand, consist of at least three partner institutions from different EU states; here, funding is available in lump sums of EUR 120,000, EUR 250,000 or EUR 400,000.
AusbildungWeltweit is a national funding programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) that provides financial support for worldwide, practice-oriented stays abroad during vocational training. This enables trainees and trainers to acquire international practical skills within a foreign company and to undergo personal development. Financial support is provided to trainees for periods abroad of three weeks to three months and to trainers for periods of two days to two weeks. The funding includes subsidies for travel and accommodation expenses as well as for preparation prior to the stay and any follow-up (e.g. language courses). More detailed information can be found in the funding guidelines (Förderrichtlinie AusbildungWeltweit).
The JUVENTUS programme, which is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), is aimed at disadvantaged young people up to the age of 30, with the aim of improving their chances of integration into the labour market through in-company internships in other EU countries. Young people and young adults can gain (learning) experience in other countries and thereby improve their chances in the labour market. The target group includes young people with a migration background, single parents, dropouts from education and training and people with disabilities. A central component of JUVENTUS is a supervised internship abroad in another EU member state lasting several months, combined with intensive preparation and follow-up. JUVENTUS is the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS). Its aim is to help job centres/employment agencies, companies and project organisers to work closely on projects together. The programme runs from 2022 to 2028.
In addition to the above-mentioned programmes at EU or federal level, there are other activities at transnational level that promote mobility in VET between Germany and one or more partner countries. Selected programmes at this level include:
- PROTANDEM, a Franco-German agency that supports exchanges in vocational education and training. It finances group exchanges of trainees from France and Germany for a minimum stay of two weeks. The minimum number of participants is six trainees; travel and accommodation costs are covered. On the German side, PROTANDEM is funded by the BMBF.
- The Voluntary Vocational Internships programme of the Czech-German Youth Exchange Tandem (Deutsch-Tschechischer Jugendaustausch Tandem) coordination centre is aimed at vocational schools, training companies and inter-company training institutions. The programme enables vocational school students, apprentices and young professionals aged 16 and over to complete a vocational internship in a neighbouring country. The duration of the internship can be from ten days to twelve months; preparation days as well as orientation on site are part of the internship.
- The German-Polish Youth Office (DPJW) promotes internships in the area of vocational training, as well as other activities. The measures support both individual internships and internships for larger groups for the purpose of careers guidance, vocational preparation or continuing education. The target group is Polish and German students from vocational schools and career entrants; the duration of the internship can be from seven days to three months.
- The German-Israeli Cooperation Programme in VET is a bilateral cooperation programme between the Israeli Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the German Federal Ministry of Education, which promotes, among other things, exchanges of trainees. This involves small groups of Israeli or German trainees completing training courses and subject-related internships in companies and training institutions in the partner country during a stay of around three weeks.
For more information on mobility in VET, see also the Youth Wiki chapter Cross-border mobility in employment, entrepreneurship and vocational opportunities.
Mobility in higher education
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is the central organisation in Germany for mobility in higher education. It is supported by German universities and is financed primarily from funds provided by the Federal Foreign Office (AA), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the European Union.
The DAAD also oversees the National Agency for Erasmus+ Higher Education Cooperation. Erasmus+ in higher education (Erasmus+ Hochschulbildung) supports both individual mobility and partnerships between organisations.
- As part of the Key Action Learning Mobility of Individuals, funding is provided not only for stays abroad by students, but also by higher education staff involved with apprenticeships, further education and training. The new Erasmus+ programme, which will run from 2021 to 2027, aims to take greater account of the different needs of individual target groups. The minimum length of stay for study visits is two months; these are possible not only in European countries but also in partner countries worldwide. Students receive financial grants during their stay, the amount of which depends on the destination country; in addition, there is recognition of their academic achievements gained abroad. Erasmus+ also promotes internships abroad for students and graduates, who receive organisational support in the form of financial grants, which vary depending on the destination country, as well as with preparing and carrying out the stay abroad.
- The Key Action Cooperation among organisations and institutions promotes structured cooperation between higher education institutions to support their internationalisation activities. The terms can range from 12 to 36 months.
The DAAD also supports study visits, internships, language courses and summer schools abroad in various ways beyond Erasmus+. The scope of funding depends on the programme, and ranges from a few days – as in the case of the summer school in the GoEast programme – to two years, in the case of a scholarship for Master’s studies abroad. In its scholarship database (Stipendiendatenbank), the DAAD provides an overview of its own scholarship programmes as well as offers from other selected funding organisations. In addition to study visits (Studieren im Ausland), the DAAD also supports internships abroad (Praktika im Ausland) as well as research (Forschen im Ausland) and teaching (Lehren im Ausland) abroad.
In addition to the DAAD, the Goethe-Institut, the cultural institute that represents Germany throughout the world, also supports mobility programmes for students. An example of this is the SCHULWÄRTS! programme, which is aimed at student teachers and prospective teachers for all types of school and subject combinations, and arranges and supports internships at schools abroad. Funding is provided for internships lasting between eight and 16 weeks; scholarship holders receive a one-off payment of EUR 1,000 and an amount of EUR 125 per internship week. Scholarship holders receive individual support before, during and after the internship. SCHULWÄRTS! is funded by the Federal Foreign Office, among others.
In addition to the scholarships mentioned above, the German Federal Training Assistance Act (BAföG) also provides opportunities to finance study visits abroad. Students who do not receive BAföG in Germany can also benefit from Auslands-BAföG – BAföG grants for studies abroad. One condition of this is that the cost of living abroad is higher than in Germany.
Mobility in school-based education
The Pedagogical Exchange Service (Pädagogischer Austauschdienst, PAD), which is overseen by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK), is the which is the sole public organisation in Germany responsible for international exchanges in the school sector. PAD is also the National Agency for Erasmus+ School Education (Nationale Agentur Erasmus+ Schulbildung), and as such the point of contact for questions relating to the European funding instrument.
Erasmus+ promotes mobility projects, partnerships and digital exchanges in school education:
- Pupils and staff are able to take part in educational visits abroad as part of mobility projects. These also place a particular focus on young people with fewer opportunities, such as those with disabilities and who are economically or socially disadvantaged. Applications for funding cannot be made by individuals, only by schools or other institutions. In the case of students, funding is available for individual or group exchanges lasting from two to 30 days. Teachers have the opportunity to take part in work shadowing or in-service training abroad, for example, as part of Erasmus+.
- Partnerships enable European cooperation between organisations both large and small, such as public authorities and teacher training institutions, on a topic chosen by them, for example digitalisation, inclusion, educational justice or promoting STEM subjects. As in the area of VET and higher education, Erasmus+ also supports both smaller partnerships and larger cooperation projects in school education.
- Finally, digital exchange between different actors involved in school education will be promoted by the European School Education Platform launched in 2022. This platform is also home to eTwinning, the community of schools that enables them to network, exchange and launch joint projects.
The PAD is also jointly responsible with the Goethe-Institut and DAAD for implementing the Schools: Partners for the Future (PASCH) initiative, which was launched by the Federal Foreign Office in 2008. PASCH’s aim is to promote long-term partnerships between schools in Germany and schools worldwide by encouraging reciprocal exchanges between groups of pupils. The programme subsidises travel costs for pupils and accompanying teachers, as well as programme and project costs incurred during the course of exchanges. It also provides financial support for preparatory visits and, since June 2020, virtual exchange formats.
The PAD also coordinates various binational school exchange programmes. These include:
- TheGerman American Partnership Program (GAPP):GAPP supports long-term partnerships between schools in Germany and the US by encouraging reciprocal exchanges between groups of pupils. The programme subsidises flight costs for German students and accompanying teachers as well as the project costs for exchanges.
- The School Partnership Fund Germany-China (Schulpartnerschaftsfonds Deutschland – China) supports schools with preparing and implementing school exchange projects between China and Germany. A contact in each country has the task of promoting Sino-German understanding through theme-based project work in schools. The services provided by the School Partnership Fund are complemented by digital exchange formats and funding opportunities.
- The School Partnerships with Israel programme (Schulpartnerschaften mit Israel) supports long-term partnerships between schools in Germany and Israel by encouraging reciprocal exchanges involving groups of pupils. The programme subsidises flight costs for Israeli students and accompanying teachers as well as project costs for the exchange in Germany.
In addition to the PAD, bilateral youth organisations and coordination offices also promote student exchanges and encounters. The following are a few examples:
- Franco-German Youth Office (DFJW): The DFJW’s Brigitte Sauzay Programme supports individual exchanges between pupils from France and Germany. Participants spend three months with a host family in the other country. Visits to schools in the respective host country should be at least six weeks in duration; participants receive a travel allowance.
- German-Polish Youth Office (DPJW): The German-Polish Youth Office (DPJW) supports German-Polish student exchanges on an individual level. Stays in the respective host country, which last a minimum of three and a maximum of six months, are supported by an allowance of EUR 100 per month together with a travel allowance.
- UK-German Connection: The programmes and activities of the UK-German Connection are available to secondary schools and vocational schools. Depending on the programme, the funding awarded covers travel costs, transport, accommodation and project expenses as well as expenses for joint activities.
The European funding programme Erasmus+ promotes learning mobility in the formal, non-formal and informal sectors. As the national agency in Germany, Jugend für Europa is mandated to implement Erasmus+ Youth. Erasmus+ Youth promotes learning mobility for individuals in addition to partnerships for cooperation. These include bi-, tri- and multilateral youth exchanges, mobility projects as part of Discover EU Inclusion and youth participation projects and projects for experts in youth work. Particular priorities include inclusion and diversity, environmental protection, sustainable development and climate action, digital transformation and participation in democratic life.
Beyond Erasmus+, youth exchanges within Europe and worldwide are also supported by bilateral youth works and special programmes. These are funded in part by the Child and Youth Plan of the Federal Government (Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes, KJP).
- Special Programme to Promote German-American Youth Exchanges 2023 (available in German): Funds to set up a German-US Youth Office (DAJW) have been available in the federal budget since 2021. The special funding, which is carried out on the basis of the Child and Youth Plan, focuses on encounters between German and US youth groups. It includes youth education programmes on politics, culture and sports, programmes involving youth community services as well as memorial and commemoration projects. The programmes must have a minimum duration of five days; as a rule, there is a minimum age of eight and maximum age of 26 years for participants.
- The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) has been promoting youth and specialist exchanges with China since 2006 as part of the Special Programme China (Sonderprogramm China). Here, too, funding is provided based on the KJP guidelines.
- The Tandem Coordination Centre for German-Czech Youth Exchange (Tandem Koordinierungszentrum Deutsch-Tschechischer Jugendaustausch) promotes mutual understanding and the development of friendly relations between young people from Germany and the Czech Republic. Tandem does this on behalf of the BMFSFJ using the Czech Republic Special Fund (Sondermittel Tschechische Republik) provided for by the Child and Youth Plan. In addition to supporting youth encounters, it also funds digital exchange projects and awards grants to cover travel and programme costs.
- The Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO/DFJW) promotes extracurricular youth encounters organised by youth associations and clubs, cities, municipalities and twinning committees in Germany and France. It funds programmes with a duration of four to 21 days; flat-rate grants are paid towards travel, accommodation and programme costs. The target group is young people aged between six and 30.
- The German-Polish Youth Office (GPYO/DPJW) supports youth projects involving participants from four or more countries, unilateral tours to sites of remembrance and au pair visits, among other things. It funds encounters for young people between the ages of 12 and 26; encounters last a minimum of four and a maximum of 28 days. More detailed information can be found in the DPJW funding guidelines (available in German).
- ConAcT, the Coordination Centre for German-Israeli Youth Exchange, offers support with planning German-Israeli exchange programmes, provides information on funding opportunities and arranges contacts in the two countries.
There is no integrated system of quality assurance for the aforementioned programmes to promote cross-border learning mobility. Rather, each programme is subject to the guidelines or funding principles that apply to the relevant sources of funding.
Institutions implementing mobility actions under Erasmus+ are obliged to comply with the Erasmus quality standards. These are designed to ensure that participants have good mobility experiences and learning outcomes and that all institutions that receive funding from the programme contribute to the programme’s objectives. Proper compliance with Erasmus quality standards in the national context will be verified by the relevant national agency, as appropriate. In the case of programmes funded by the Child and Youth Plan of the BMFSFJ, compliance with the relevant guidelines of the KJP (RL-KJP) is required.
Furthermore, membership of one of the umbrella and professional associations of international youth work, working groups or networks is an indicator that activities meet defined quality standards. Depending on the area of work, these include institutions such as the AJA, the umbrella organisation of non-profit youth exchange organisations in Germany (Arbeitskreis gemeinnütziger Jugendaustauschorganisationen), the conference of providers of International Youth Community and Youth Social Services (Trägerkonferenz der Internationalen Jugendgemeinschafts- und Jugendsozialdienste) or the Learning and Helping Overseas Association (Arbeitskreis ‘Lernen und Helfen in Übersee’ e.V. , AKLHÜ).
The working group on Quality Criteria in International Youth Work, which is made up of representatives of German youth organisations and their umbrella organisations and coordinated by IJAB – International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany has also developed a set of quality criteria for international youth work (Qualitätskriterien für die internationale Jugendarbeit). These can serve both as self-orientation for organisations and as a means to develop standards.
Another method used to evaluate youth encounters is the online platform i-EVAL. This platform permits self-evaluation of youth encounters using questionnaires aimed at participants and full-time and voluntary staff. The results remain anonymous and can serve as the basis for a continuous quality improvement process in the planning and implementation of youth exchange measures. i-EVAL was developed and funded by the Franco-German Youth Office and the German-Polish Youth Office with the support of IJAB and the research association Forschungsverbund Freizeitenevaluation.
Further information about quality assurance systems can be found in the Youth Wiki chapter: Voluntary Activities – Quality assurance. For more information on cross-border learning mobility, especially in school education, see also: Mobility in early childhood and school education (europa.eu).