Celebrating 20 years of eurodesk Germany: More than 500,000 young people advised on going abroad

This year, eurodesk Germany looks back on 20 years of advising young people on mobility opportunities abroad – reason enough to reflect on its successes and take a look ahead at things to come. In an interview with ijab.de, the eurodesk team talk about what kind of advice and information they provide, the quality of their services and other prospects on the horizon.

The eurodesk team (l-r): Regina Schmieg, Svenja Schumacher, Annette Westermann and Robert Helm-Pleuger BildImage: IJAB/Hänisch

It's been 20 years since eurodesk began offering advice and information. In hindsight, what would you say have been the biggest milestones throughout this period?

Eurodesk team: In the early years, eurodesk Germany's primary focus was on advising youth organisations and experts working in child and youth services on European funding initiatives. At the turn of the millennium, this focus shifted to providing young people with mobility information. When the www.rausvonzuhaus.de website was set up by eurodesk Germany in 2002, it laid the foundation for reaching a much broader cross-section of the public on mobility advice matters. Something that has played a particularly prominent role in our work over the years and had a strong impact on eurodesk's profile has been the creation and expansion of the eurodesk partner network in Germany. The 50 partner organisations in this network work hard every day at regional and local level across Germany to inform young people about the opportunities open to them in Europe. They are the reason why eurodesk’s advice and information services have been so successful.

How do you uphold your commitment to providing young people with competent, expert advice? What safeguards are in place to ensure the quality of your advisory services?

Eurodesk team: The first and perhaps most obvious aim is to maintain regular contact with the young people in our target group so we can understand – and therefore meet – their needs. Second, but no less important, we routinely exchange knowledge and insights with the providers of the various funding and mobility schemes. This allows us to keep up with changing trends so that we can adjust our services and communicate the trends accordingly. eurodesk Germany has long recognised the significance of these activities, which is why ten years ago it set up an expert group of mobility specialists. It’s composed of stakeholders from overseas who work in schools, universities, education, training, volunteer programmes and much more and regularly meet up to exchange information.

In addition, regular training and upskilling opportunities for eurodesk staff safeguard the quality of advisory services provided by organisations in the eurodesk partner network. Since 2006, eurodesk Germany as the national coordination body has complied with eurodesk’s own European quality catalogue. Today, the local and regional service units also operate under the framework of this European quality system.

How extensively is your advice service used and what kind of demand is there for it? What do you know about your target group?

Eurodesk team: There is a huge demand for unbiased, free and comprehensive information and advice on youth mobility services from all kinds of providers. The sheer volume of reputable and dubious information sources and providers both online and offline is confusing not only for young people but also parents, teachers and child and youth services experts alike. In recent years, the number of individuals contacting eurodesk's 50 service units in Europe to ask for information or advice has been between 60,000 and 70,000 each year. In 2015, 78 per cent of enquiries came directly from young people. 58 per cent of young people who get in touch are 18 or 19 years of age, and 68 per cent already have a university entrance qualification. The majority of young people planning to travel abroad have therefore graduated from high school with good grades and want to spend time overseas before they start university or training (61 per cent) (see 2015 Eurodesk statistics).

Eurodesk not only provides young people with advice and information on going abroad. Experts who work with young people also benefit from your expertise and services. What, specifically, do you offer in this field?

Eurodesk team: Originally, eurodesk was intended purely as a service for experts who work with young people. Advice on funding initiatives is still an important element of our work, although nowadays enquiries in this area from child and youth services experts only make up 8 per cent. Even so, it remains extremely important because without it, many mobility options couldn’t be offered in the first place.

Alongside advising child and youth services experts, the upskilling opportunities for this target group now also form an integral part of our work. Over the past few years, more than 350 experts have been trained up as mobility advisors and over 100 individuals have taken part in a eurodesk workshop on funding.

Eurodesk's commitment over the last 20 years has helped to promote European integration and mutual understanding between young people active in the youth sector. How is eurodesk Germany celebrating this milestone?

Eurodesk team: In this era of debate over border controls, uneasiness over large numbers of refugees and the rejection of other cultures across Europe, we believe that developing intercultural skills and entering into a dialogue with others, above all in Europe, are key tools for counteracting these negative developments. Providing young people with information and advice about mobility opportunities is the first step in this direction, and this is where eurodesk can make a major contribution. So our 20-year celebrations will not be about patting ourselves on the back, but about continuing to come up with new ways of getting information out to young people and encouraging them to go abroad. We've already made a start: the  www.rausvonzuhaus.de website was relaunched at the beginning of 2016 with a responsive design, a new eurodesk.tv film on the European Voluntary Service (EVS) has just gone online, and a new booklet about support circles has been published. There will also be a small anniversary celebration at the eurodesk annual conference. We want to use this opportunity to give special thanks to the network of partners in Germany for helping to inform and advise more than 500,000 young people over the past 20 years.

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