"THEY are simply too good, both the fellowship and students". Goran Ewald's voice crackles over the internet. The Associate Professor at LUCUS, Lund University's sustainability programme, was responding to our query on the Erasmus Mudus (EM) Fellowship Programme. Erasmus Mundus is a worldwide higher education programme, established in 2004 and funded by the European Union.
It offers scholarships for individuals (students and academics) and funding for European higher education institutions to develop joint masters and doctoral programmes. Students and researchers on these programmes pursue a full degree course in at least two different European countries, whereas academics typically spend a period of three months engaged in teaching or research at a European university.
HE Daniele Smadja, the Ambassidor of EU to India, says that the Erasmus Mundus started initially as a programme for EU students, but when opened up for international applicants it emerged that one in six applicants was from India. Hence a special window was opened up for India, with a separate budget of about 28.6 million euros.
What is on offer?
Erasmus Mundus currently offers 103 flagship Erasmus Mundus Masters Courses in fields as diverse as animal breeding, coastal management, earthquake engineering, food science, genetics, geospatial technologies, nanotechnology, photonics, public health, robotics, rural development, space technology, sustainable forestry, tropical medicine and viticulture.
If selected, the programme allows students of all levels (from undergraduate to post-doctoral), as well as academics, to spend a period of anything between three months to three years, studying, teaching or researching in Europe. The only condition is that at the end of this period, they are required to return to their country of origin. This is with the specific objective of avoiding "brain drain".
Can I crack it?
More than 6,000 students and over 1,000 academics from outside the European Union received scholarships linked to these Masters Courses during the first phase of Erasmus Mundus between 2004 and 2008. Applications to study on Erasmus Mundus Masters courses have steadily risen each year, from just over 3,000 in 2005 to more than 22,000 applications from 166 countries in 2009. Competition is intense, with only 8% of applicants being awarded. So, prepare well if you have to get one of the 1,800 scholarships available in 2009.
How to locate a fellowship
The EM application is slightly complicated. The candidate has to keep track of the opportunities that are advertised periodically in the scholarship website. (www.erasmuswindow15.org/index.html). This is a special window exclusively for India. One can also seek out opportunites from the global EM Fellowship website (http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/extcoop/call/index.htm). The calls for fellowship are closed for the current academic year and would open again in late 2009 or so for the next academic year 2010-2011.
Goran says, "the best person to guide is your current academic supervisor". For Ramakrishna, Post-Doctoral fellow in Germany, it was his supervisor at IISc who directed him towards an opportunity at the Max Plank system. He is spending two years there as an early stage researcher. For Anasuya Mitra, a Masters student at University of Oslo, an email alert from the research network (firstname.lastname@example.org), a mailing list for social sciences, helped her apply for an EM fellowship.
The ABCD of applying
Amit Agarwal, a Masters student at University of Amsterdam says, the application process is one of the most difficult elements of the scholarship since one has to prepare a different set of application for each scholarship one identifies, because unlike other fellowships, EM is tied to the university department which announces the call. The application process is completely online.
The three most important components of the application packages are
Description of the research topic: Since this is the prime document in the decision process, sufficient care must be taken in its preparation. Anasuya was lucky, since she had been in correspondence with the professor who was responsible for the fellowship. She tailored her research topic appropriately. "What is more important is your ability to cogently present the problem", says Prof. Haribabu, Dean Social Sciences at University of Hyderabad.
Statement of purpose: This must be a concise essay about your interests and career goals, identified means to achieve them and accomplishments so far towards those goals. Amiya Shankar, pursuing his Ph.D in Germany says, his award committee almost rejected his application, as he wasn't clear about his career goals. His strong publication record saved him.
Letters of recommendation: Contrary to what the websites generally say, letters of recommendation from leading researchers in your field does matter. But form recommendations are a strict no-no. It is very important that the professor who recommends you assesses you correctly in terms of both your strengths and weaknesses. Glowing letters of recommendations, unless matched with stellar academic record are sure signs that there is something amiss somewhere.
How do they judge me?
The actual process of an academic award is never very clear. There is always an element of subjectivity involved. Considerations like geographic and gender diversity, special representation needs, all play a role in the final decision. But the website lists out six specific factors.
1. Academic performance
2.Motivation of the candidates
3.Language capacity to follow courses, teach/research at the host university
5.Level of vulnerability and socio-economical status
6.The scholar's commitment to return to his/her home institution/country
The EM offers an experience, with exposure to cross cultural living. "You learn first to tolerate, then to accept and finally learn to enjoy diversity and that is what education must be all about", concludes Anasuya. Amen to that.