Alan Smith and the ERASMUS-programme

“Erasmus’ name will never be lost” said Erasmus’ English friend John Colet. Another Englishman, Alan Smith, has contributed a great deal to the prominence of the name Erasmus in our time, especially within European education. Alan Smith, British by birth and German by choice and marriage, is a former EU official; before that he was director of the ERASMUS office in Brussels, and before that – until 1987 – he headed that European Community office’s predecessor for the promotion of joint study programmes. And in doing so, under the shower, he got the raid for the name EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, with which the name Erasmus programme was born. ERASMUS is not only a beautiful acronym, Erasmus himself was pre-eminently a cross-border European academic. So a wonderful combination!

Alan Smith has been retired for many years, but he has been living in Bonn again since 2013 after his time in Brussels. He remains at heart committed to the European cause and education. I have a lunch appointment with him at a restaurant on the Rhine. He tells me that before this conversation he started reading Stefan Zweig’s biography of Erasmus. In it he sees confirmation that Erasmus was an exemplary European not only through his travels, but also through his views and aims (“or are these Zweig’s own ideas, which he projects onto Erasmus?”): Erasmus advocated reasonableness, tolerance and peace; he was against fanaticism and nationalism; and he may not have had deep philosophical theories, but he did constantly urge honest and pure reasoning. We could use that in these times of discontent, division and conspiracy theories. And in the process, Erasmus was also convinced of the importance of education and training.

Outside, the weather is quite chilly, but inside the restaurant it gets quite warm, so Alan takes off his jacket, which includes an old t-shirt with an emblem of the Erasmus programme from the early days, and underneath it, yet another t-shirt with that emblem: within the twelve European stars, the head of Erasmus with, in his hat, a symbol representing both a dove of peace and an aeroplane (representing mobility). Under my shirt, I am wearing my Erasmus XXI cycling shirt, as I am riding on to my next destination later that day. This is how we will be photographed together.

It was great to talk so Erasmian about our shared expectations about Europe and education. Thank you very much for that, Alan.

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