2014 Gilbert Medal - Domenico Lenarduzzi

Dr Domenico Lenarduzzi, creator of the Erasmus programme, has been awarded the 2014 Gilbert Medal which recognises outstanding contribution to international higher education.

Dr Domenico Lenarduzzi, Honorary Director-General for the Directorate General of Education and Culture at the European Commission, has been awarded the 2014 Gilbert Medal for Internationalisation by Universitas 21 (U21).  The medal is named in honour of the late Professor Alan Gilbert, founder ofUniversitas 21,and upholds his work as a lifelong proponent of the benefits of internationalisation.  It celebrates some of the core objectives of the U21 network, which aim to increase understanding, trust and partnership between international universities.

Dr Lenarduzzi worked in the European Union executive for over 40 years. He is best known for devising and establishing the Erasmus programme which launched in 1987 and has remained a key strand at the heart of internationalisation in higher education ever since. In its first year the programme sent 3,244 students from 11 countries to study abroad, and during its more than 25-year history it has enabled over two million European students to learn abroad, and hundreds of thousands of lecturers to teach abroad. Today, with the expansion of the Erasmus mobility scheme to work placements, and both EU and non-EU students now able to participate, the programme sends abroad 230,000 students from 33 countries each year.

Erasmus has helped whole generations of students to improve their language competence, their ability to work with people from other cultures, and their employability. The scheme covers reduced tuition fees and monthly student grants for study or work placements, and new initiatives extend this support to those in greatest financial need. Virtually every university in the European Union now has an internationalisation policy, and it was the pioneering work of Dr Lenarduzzi  that encouraged students and staff to think internationally.  

On receiving news of the Gilbert Medal, Dr Lenarduzzi said:

“I am very much honoured by this award. I was always convinced about the importance of the mobility, and thus the internationalisation, of Higher Education, because I consider that without cross-fertilisation of cultures and habits, there is no universality in Higher Education.  When preparing the first big programme of mobility in European Higher Education in the 1980s, we decided to name it ‘Erasmus’ because this famous philosopher was the first to study and teach in different countries of our continent. At that time we had a Europe of free movement of goods and services but no possibility of citizens’ mobility. To make Europeans, we had to have education mobility beginning with Higher education. This was my duty. This was my biggest life challenge.”

Jane Usherwood, Secretary General ofUniversitas 21commented on behalf of the award panel:

“We are delighted to recognise the contribution which Dr Domenico Lenarduzzi has made to the internationalisation of higher education through this award of the 2014 Gilbert Medal.  As the ‘father of the Erasmus programme’, Dr Lenarduzzi has enabled many thousands of young people from around the world to study outside their own country, opening their minds to difference and building relationships which will shape their lives.  Although developed within Europe, the Erasmus programme has had global impact.  We are a global network with a commitment to enhancing student experiences and opportunities, and the award of this year’s Gilbert Medal to someone who has achieved so much to change the lives of so many students is most fitting and appropriate.”

The Gilbert Medal itself features the winning design from a competition among students at Lund University.  The medal is manufactured in the world-renowned Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, UK and has been described by the craftsmen who work on it as “simply stunning”.

The medal was presented to Dr Lenarduzzi in a private ceremony in Brussels in early 2014.