A considerable number of young people from Western Balkans leave their countries to move in one of the member states of European Union: running away from poverty, looking for a chance to get a job and seeking for a chance to create a brighter life and future. This road is not always realized in legal way and of course is not an easy one for those young people but neither for the authorities of countries where they migrate.
However, this article is about a different category of young people. Those that leave their country for a better education opportunity, with the clear vision that once they have completed it, they will go back to contribute in their homeland, in order to influence for a positive change, and to make a difference in the societies where they come from.
And, like in the most fields, the EU grants are having a big positive impact on this issue. European Union’s funding programs are one of the biggest and most used opportunities by young students from countries of Western Balkans. Those programs have provided a great deal and a chance for a practical experience in the last years.
One of the most important sub-programs is Erasmus. Erasmus is designed to support exchange of students in higher education, and also cooperation between universities. However the partnership with third country higher education institutions was realized within Erasmus Mundus programme. With Erasmus project, the EU is contributing in this way not only in education of young people but also in the socio-economic development of non-EU countries targeted by EU external cooperation policy.
Regarding Western Balkans, students from Albania, Bosnia&Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia are the beneficiaries of this programme. They all are given the opportunity to live and study in European cities, to deepen the knowledge and to get in touch with different cultures and cosmopolite environment. Most of them emphasize the fact that without a scholarship, they would not be able to study abroad due to financial burden of tuition fees and living expenses but most importantly due to legal obstacles of being non EU-citizens.
“So many students from the Western Balkans would not be able to pursue their academic passions to study in a West European university without the generosity of the scholarship schemes available in the Erasmus Mundus Project. The difficulties in pursuing a degree abroad are of different natures, starting from financial capabilities (knowing the lower standard of living of the S-E Balkan), recognition of the degree obtained at home university, finding the adequate program offered preferably in English language, and even the obstacles in obtaining a student visa in the case of student from Kosovo” – Zane Ahmetgjekaj from Kosovo currently finishing her master degree in Germany.
Zana further explains that the programme is offering a unique chance to promote e academic mobility of excellent third country students, academics and researchers, in particular from vulnerable groups, in order to offer them the opportunity to obtain qualifications and experience in the EU.
Indeed those programmes are designed for excellent students; the same opinion shares Iva Hladik from Serbia, studying in Austria. ‘’It is a chance for good students to evolve their knowledge. Except professional skills it improves also language skills. Not to mention how important is for the future and the contribute we can give to our home country with the knowledge and experience gain in EU’’
Irena Gjorgieva from Macedonia graduated in Lithuania in 2013 sharing her experience as one of the scholars said: “First of all, it is important because most students from the Balkans do not have the necessary funds to study abroad. I personally have always wanted to study abroad and it was a great opportunity for me”
Graduated in Belgium, Rinor Hoxha from Kosovo currently working in Ministry of European Integration highlights the importance of young experts for the European integration process. “By providing this opportunity to young people, the EU straight away assists the general development of these countries, by producing EU oriented professionals operating at public or private sector, who are able to take the responsibility and drive forward key political, economic, rule of law and other imperative sectoral reforms within their countries”
Being aware that the integration process requires serious commitment from countries in the region, Shqiprim Haliti also from Kosovo graduated in Lithuania said that people should be conscious and realistic that our countries have a long road to the EU integration, and to fulfill the EU standards are needed skilled people.
The leading country from Western Balkans based on the number of students that have been awarded a scholarship to study master degree in one of the EU countries is Serbia with a total number of 362 students (2007-2013), followed by Albania, with 132 students (2004-2013), Macedonia with 71 students (2004-2013), Bosnia Herzegovina with 61 students (2004-2013), Montenegro with 36 students(2007-2013) and the last one Kosovo with 32 students (2004-2014). The programs aim to keep a geographical and gender balance. But the decision is also based on the values offered from candidate students individually. Based on the statistics of Join EU-SEE (one of the programmes of Erasmus Mundus) most preferable fields of studies for those students are social sciences, business studies, management studies, language and philological science, economics and law. Less interest is show in fields as performing arts, design, history of arts, accountancy, financial management, industrial relations and personal management, teacher training, geology etc. 
From 2014, Erasmus has a “plus”, representing more funds, opportunities and cooperation. Erasmus+ is the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport. It brings together seven existing EU programmes in those fields. With a budged of € 14.7 billion, a 40% increase compared to current spending levels, it reflects the EU’s commitment to investing in these areas.
Giving young people the chance to spend time abroad acquiring additional qualifications that will help them in job market is important considering the unemployment rate in countries of Western Ballkans. The innovation of Erasmus+ is that except being able to study as exchange students or degree seekers, it offers also industrial internships as a result of the partnerships between businesses and companies in EU.
Young educated people, with an international experience, able to accept and respect the national and religion differences is the new generation needed in the region, in order to take a turn in the direction of a change for better. Hundreds of students finished their degrees in EU, to bring back home an European vision considering that all the countries are going through European integration process, even though in different phases. Every country in the region needs qualified experts of different fields and open mind people to facilitate the process, to help the implementation of EU integration process to practice and improve the quality of life.
Go Erasmus; go as fast as you can! Europe is waiting for you! Isn’t it?
Author: Fitore Bajraktari is bachelor of law at University of Pristina, Kosovo and former journalist at Radio Television of Kosovo. At the moment studying European Union Studies master programme at Salzburg University, Austria.
 More information’s about statistics over the years: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus_mundus/results_compendia/statistics_en.php (accessed 05/09/14)
 More information’s about the Erasmus+ : http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/discover/index_en.htm (accessed on 17/09/14)