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“EMA is a key factor in facilitating alumni connections and supporting the European Commission to benefit from the European Higher Education mobility”

Katharina Heil is the President of the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA). Katharina Heil, PhD, is currently the Communities Manager at ELIXIR, an intergovernmental organisation bringing together life science resources, such as databases, software tools, training materials, cloud storage and supercomputers from across Europe. She received an Erasmus Mundus PhD in 2017 from the University of Edinburgh and KTH, Stockholm. She also completed a research visit at NCBS in Bangalore, speaks several languages and has lived in three continents. As EMA's President, she aims to make EMA self-sustainable, move the community forward and connect our members to gain worldwide presence.

First of all, for those who might not know, what is EMA?

EMA is the Erasmus Mundus Students and Alumni Association, in short Erasmus Mundus Association, EMA. It was founded in 2006 and since 2013 we are also a legal entity, an NGO. We represent Erasmus Mundus students and alumni from Joint Master’s Degrees or PhD programmes.

What are EMA´s goals?

In EMA, our main focus is to facilitate the networking between alumni and students. This comes and starts from the first contacts of students who have been awarded the scholarship or got admitted to Master’s degrees in Europe. At that stage, we are involved in pre-departure seminars all over the world, in more than 170 countries, to help establish the first contacts and facilitate the departure but also the start of all the students in Europe. At the same time, we are also extremely active in bridging gaps and connecting people from different EMJMD (Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree) Programmes in Europe.

In three words, how would you describe the main benefits of alumni networks?

I think, first of all, a lot of personal added value. I would continue with capacity building opportunities and personal development to keep in touch, engaged and give back to the community. And on a third note, a really strong community aspect is involved too, to help and support people to stick together.

And what would you say is the main added value of EMA?

As an Alumni Association, we are really key in facilitating that possibility of taking forward those connections from the EMA community, but also helping and supporting the European Commission in a way, to spread the word about the opportunity of EMJMD/international Master’s programmes that exist and help others, who might not have learned about those opportunities to also benefit from them to come and study in the European higher education sector.

As part of ESAA (Erasmus+ Student and Alumni Alliance), your alumni organisation is being financially supported by the EU. Why is your Alumni network important for the European Union?

We are very grateful about the support we receive from the EU. The position we are in and the platform we have wouldn’t be possible, without their support. The added value we bring to the European Commission is that we have volunteers all over the world. They are very, very happy to help, they are very flexible on the spot to supply help to anybody who needs it, and allows potential future students, to get first-hand experience and direct encouragement.

In the past few years, Public Diplomacy has become one of the key priorities of the EU Foreign Policy. Can EMA’s work be a tool for Public Diplomacy?

That is an interesting point and I think EMA connects really well with this approach to diplomacy. In teaching and training, especially in higher education, I think there is a lot more to it than only learning the course - there are so many other values to it! By supporting us, the European Commission is supporting those types of study programmes that get people together and foster connections but also supporting people when they go back home with the knowledge and approaches gained through their study in Europe. The impact of exporting those approaches on how we study and learn in Europe, and to then possibly exchange best practices with the policy makers there/in their home countries or go back to their local schools and just share a couple of ideas, so that some of the successful stories can be really spread across the world.

What challenges does EMA face and how would you like the EU to support your alumni organisation?

One of the things which I think might require a little bit of thinking, would be the modernisation of our system. EMA has been existing for a good number of years now, our members are getting more and more experienced and that means more and more years have passed since they have finished their studies. So, it is of incredible value to have them on board because they can be great resources for our students, and our new graduates as well. But we as an association, we still need to adapt and offer those members more added value to their careers and to their portfolios.

The EU can definitely support us to overcome our challenges. In that sense, EMA should offer unique features that EMA members cannot get from elsewhere for which we would like to see a little more flexibility –from the European Commission – with regard to resources and how to use them, especially to engage new members and more experienced ones. That would be really much appreciated.

The landscape of alumni initiatives today is diversified. Even within the Erasmus programme there are different actors. How does EMA coexist with the other alumni associations and networks?

The fact that almost all universities by now have an alumni association, makes it difficult for alumni to choose where they want to belong to. In the case of EMA, the fact that people have really come from all over the world and travelled so much during their studies, makes them stick together quite strongly and also really establishes that link, personally, between members. That is one of the reasons why many of them/our members feel linked to the Erasmus Mundus Association itself. We are working closely together with the other organisations under the ESAA umbrella and yes, some people are part of 2 associations or more. Most of these have a very specific focus and, at some point, the members decide on where they feel most at home. In the sense of where they find the most like-minded people to share their experiences with and where they can gain more value and give back to what they are looking for at the moment.

Where do you see need for EU ALUMNI?

It would be very enriching for everybody to have the one go-to place to connect with the different people. That would also generate a larger pool of people who could support and give ideas and experiences. So, the value would be extremely great for everybody involved. The question probably is how to make it work. How to convince and bring everybody on board. Even if the existing alumni organisations visibility might not be so present, the overall vision is really well reflected in the larger EU ALUMNI initiative itself.

About EMA

What is it?

EMA is an association for all students and graduates of Erasmus Mundus Master and Doctoral Programmes.

When was it created?

EMA was established in 2006 at the initiative of the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission. The Association was and still is driven by the Erasmus Mundus students from the very start, developing into a dynamic and democratic organisation.

Who can be part of EMA?

EMA members are students and alumni of the Erasmus Mundus Master and Doctoral Programmes, who in turn are ambassadors of Erasmus Mundus. EMA offers an international, professional and personal network for Erasmus Mundus students and graduates who can join the association and become active volunteers in a number of different roles. More information can be found on EMA’s website: www.em-a.eu

How to become a member of EMA?

Sign up through EMA´s community portal. Further instructions will be sent to you and EMA will get in touch with any additional information that might be needed.

Where is EMA present?

EMA counts with 12,000+ members in more than 170 countries.

Why is EMA relevant for EU ALUMNI?

EMA offers an international, professional and personal network for Erasmus Mundus students and graduates. EMA members are ambassadors of the Erasmus Mundus Association. EMA members share the idea of international education and spread the message around the world. Last but not least, EMA serves as a channel of communication for students, alumni, universities and the European Commission.