One of the most popular actions of the European Union (EU) is the setting up of university exchange programs. University exchange programs are programs organized by specific universities and scheduled in a precise period of the year. During these programs students or professors of different countries gather and work together. The most common objective of the university exchange programs is to spread the culture and habits of one country within other countries of the same continent (or even countries of different continents). In addition, people who participate in that kind of exchange programs share the knowledge, the teaching or other professional techniques across different countries.
Socrates is the name chosen by the European Union for this general education program. Under this name, three large programs coexist for the public.
Erasmus is the first education program offered by the EU. This program brings higher education to 15 EU countries, the European Economic Area and associated countries of Eastern and Central Europe as well as Cyprus and Malta. It must be noted that Erasmus includes much more than just student exchange programs, e.g. it encourages the mobility of teachers thus permitting the sharing of knowledge and teaching techniques across Europe.
The Leonardo da Vinci program is also part of the Socrates program. It deals with professional education and the mobility of persons within the framework of professional internships in companies abroad. The EU countries, the European Economic Area and some countries of Eastern Europe are involved in this program. The internships have duration of between 3 weeks to 9 months and involve students in professional, technical and scientific areas, young graduates and those unemployed.
The Lingua program is concerned with students studying modern languages and who intend to teach. In fact, it includes many more activities and its objective is to promote and encourage the learning and the diffusion of the official modern languages of the EU, associated countries and countries of the European Economic Area. Notably the language students can go abroad as an assistant for a period of 3 months to one academic year in the country of the language they have studied. The program consists of 12 hours of classes under the authority of the local professor.
In addition to the above programs, there is the Tempus program, which started in 1993. Tempus has enabled relationships between universities to occur. This is meant to enable the comparison and the convergence of higher education systems of the participating countries, thanks to a network of international relations offices. The most important part for students is the setting up of university exchange programs within all the countries involved in the Tempus program.
Finally, there are other programs that exist with other partners and function under the same methods as the Erasmus and Tempus programs: for example the Alfa program which involves South America, and to a lesser degree there is a program in China as well as the UMAP program in Asia.