Mr Joseph Schembri, Inauguration Speech
Since the start of the current programme, we have experienced an increase in the number and quality of applications and projects funded.
Thank you, Hon. Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, for being with us today and thank you to all of those who are joining us virtually for this conference on the completion of the Erasmus+ and ESC 2014-2020 programme period. Today, we are celebrating all the initiatives and projects that have emerged from the Erasmus + and the European Solidarity Corps programme. I firmly believe that today’s meeting will continue to demonstrate the positive impact that this programming period is having on the educational sector and youth policy.
In 2014, the European Commission announced the launch of this past Erasmus+ programming period aiming to link the sectors of schools, vocational education and training, higher education, adult education, and youth. This programming period allowed for the creation of innovative projects which have positively influenced and revolutionised the education sector thanks to an injection of 14,7 million Euro.
Since its initiation, the aim was to maximize the funds allocated to the Maltese islands whilst reaching the utmost amount of organisations. We liaised with several individuals and participated in various activities because we believed in the potential of this program, which unites and shapes lasting relationships and collaborations. We strongly believed that Erasmus + programme could be and would be a tool to address various important challenges such as social inclusion, digitalisation, early school leaving, youth participation in society and the acquisition of basic skills.
I feel that we have achieved this goal. Since the start of the current programme, we have experienced an increase in the number and quality of applications and projects funded. Despite the several hurdles that we have encountered in 2020, we have still managed to make this year our most successful year yet. During this year alone, 120 projects have been awarded funding totaling more than 9.5 million Euro with more projects to be awarded in the coming months, including the October Eramsus+ Call in Youth, ESC and the extraordinary COVID-19 Call.
This extraordinary call was created with the aim of addressing the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with an allocation of more than one million Euros on projects related to digitalisation and creativity. I am pleased to say that this call has been successful.
Earlier, I mentioned the European Solidarity Corps. This is a new programme that came into effect in October 2018. This is a programme specifically aimed at young people between the ages of 18 and 30 and offers opportunities to develop transversal skills and ultimately develop into responsible and active citizens. This Solidarity programme offers volunteering opportunities both in Malta and abroad. Above all, it is a programme that fully invests in our youth. I must admit that this programme took a little longer than we expected to gain momentum, not only in Malta but also in many of the other member states of the European Union. However, in the case of Malta, I am pleased to announce that this year, we have received several applications with the total demand being greater than the amount of funding which was allocated to these projects. In the coming months we will have a great number of voluntary organizations that will be benefiting from European funds under the programme of the European Solidarity Body run by our Agency.
As everyone knows, successes does not come alone. In our case, there was the continued assistance of the Secretariat for European Funds and the Parliamentary Secretary within the same Ministry. The ongoing involvement of stakeholders; but above all, a very important factor was the ability and dedication of the whole team at the Agency, who even in difficult circumstances persisted in achieving the goals which were set by myself. I cannot thank them enough and I promise them publicly that I will always stand by them.
Over the past years, together we have been careful to innovate, and even change our operations as needed. We have done our best to continuously, work closely and listen to what stakeholders, applicants and beneficiaries have to say to deliver our programs to people in the best possible way, through various mediums. Mediums such as interviews on radio and television stations, as well as using social media. These all played an important role in communicating with the public. We have also collaborated with MEUSAC and Agenzija Zghazagh to offer more help to applicants through the application process.
In addition to several individual meetings with potential beneficiaries we also organized workshops, called ‘Project Labs’ where we provided the latest updates on the sectors, priorities and good practices.
Following the evaluation process, we also offered feedback sessions on an individual basis or in the form of sessions called ‘Rethink, Revisit & Resubmit’. These sessions were held to further improve applications which were unsuccessful or did not yield sufficient marks to secure funding. In this case, following these sessions applicants got the chance to re-submit their revised applications.
EUPA has always been and will continue to be considered as a point of reference for all beneficiaries, even during project implementation stage. Despite the current pandemic, EUPA continued to provide the needed support for all ongoing projects, whilst still attempting to encourage new applications.
Before I conclude, I would like to take a brief look at the entire period of the programs we ran between 2014 and 2020. Since 2014 to date we have had 491 mobility projects with an investment of over 30.2 million Euro, with the participation of more than 25,900 people. We also facilitated 214 strategic partnership projects on various topics, with an investment of over 24.3 million Euro, with the participation of more than 7,800 individuals. With simple calculations Malta, through these programs, has invested in 33,700 people, (mostly young people) at a cost of 54.5 million Euro – with yet a large number of applications that are still to be evaluated and funded by the end of the year. This will raise both the total cost and the rate of participants, translating into more benefits for Maltese and Gozitan citizens.
At EUPA we are hoping that the COVID-19 Vaccine in the year 2021 will bring back to our country the normality we want. This will allow more young Maltese and Gozitans to gain the opportunity to travel and nurture experiences thanks to the Erasmus + Programme or the European Solidarity Corps Programme, to further strengthen their knowledge and skills from a social and educational point of view, with the ultimate aim of increasing ones job potential and quality of life
As Hon. Stefan Zrinzo Azzoppardi mentioned, January 2021 will mark the launch of a new programming period for the Erasmus and the European Solidarity Corps programme. This programming period is expected to build on the successes that we have had by offering greater and better opportunities to thousands of Gozitan, Maltese and even foreign citizens.
Therefore, I would like to invite you to our official launch of this programming period and I encourage you to contact us to find out more about the opportunities available to you.
Till our next meeting, I urge you to continue to follow the instructions constantly given to us by our Public Health Authorities – wear masks, wash our hands with soap and water or alcohol when water and soap are not accessible, and maintaining social distancing … in order to ensure a smooth transition when the opportunity to travel as part of the programs arises again, thus, we will be healthy to do so without hindrance and without fear.