Meet Mamma Erasmus

Sofia Corradi

Why is the famous European exchange programme called Erasmus? And what’s the idea behind it? Meet the inventor: Mamma Erasmus!

Eighty-two-year-old Sofia Corradi from Italy is the spiritual mother of the successful exchange programme that introduced millions of students to Europe. In the last thirty years the study grant has allowed people to study, work, or do voluntary work abroad and has become hugely successful. Around five million Europeans have already taken part in the programme, which has a budget of €15 billion.

Sofia, Professor Emeritus of Permanent Education at Roma Tre University, became inspired after studying in America and has been promoting exchange programmes since the 1960s. As the spiritual mother of the Erasmus exchange programme, she came to be called ‘Mamma Erasmus’. Last year, the Spanish king presented her with the prestigious Carlos V award for her contribution to European integration and education.

Erasmus is not Erasmus
While the same, the name of the exchange programme has very little to do with Rotterdam’s Desiderius Erasmus. ‘I have to disappoint you,’ Sofia confesses, ‘Erasmus stands for European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.’

Nevertheless, she holds Desiderius in high esteem: ‘You shouldn’t read The Praise of Folly before going to bed, as you won’t stop laughing.’ She remembers a conversation she had in 1986, just before the introduction of the Erasmus programme, with the former rector magnificus of Erasmus University in which he told her about a telephone call he’d received from the European Commission. ‘They asked him if they could use the name Erasmus. We all know what he replied.’

I have a dream
The name of the programme may not refer to the philosopher, but because of it a European movement has emerged that truly reflects the spirit of his thinking. People even refer to the ‘Erasmus experience and generation’. Like the Italian author Umberto Eco, who witnessed the birth of the first generation of young Europeans from the programme: ‘I call it a sexual revolution: they fall in love, get married and become European, as do their children.’

Sofia is convinced that the Erasmus programme is on the right track to achieve its goal. Even in her wildest dreams, she couldn’t have hoped it would become so successful. But she has another dream: ‘I hope one day Erasmus and a good education will be available to everyone. Also I hope we’ll learn how talent can best be discovered, and what’s necessary to enable someone to truly fulfil their potential.’


Read more
Some 550 years after the birth of Desiderius Erasmus, Erasmus Magazine reporter and IBCoM student Job Zomerplaag travels through Europe in the great thinker’s footsteps. His interview with Sofia Corradi is one of many. You can read the whole article here.


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