Why was the programme needed? When Slovenia started to prepare the EEA and Norwegian Scholarship Programme for the 2009-2014 period, projects between Slovenia and Norway, Iceland and even Liechtenstein already existed, however due to various financial and geographical reasons they were not many. Students and teachers tended to choose other countries for their study, training or teaching assignments abroad. However, at the same time there were plenty of common topics of interest and challenges connecting the donor countries with Slovenia – e.g. nature, human capital, social inclusion and quality of teaching. What did the programme achieve? Slovenian educational institutions seized the opportunity to participate in the Scholarship Programme. The programme enabled focused bilateral cooperation through the following activities:
- Mobility projects involving higher education students (for study or training) and staff
- Mobility projects involving elementary and secondary (general and vocational) school staff
- Inter-institutional cooperation projects in higher education (intensive programmes, summer schools)
- Inter-institutional cooperation projects at elementary and secondary level (school partnerships)
- Study visits
Plenty of possibilities for establishing new partnerships during the duration of the programme were offered to the newcomers, in the form of preparatory visits, contact seminars, individual assistance or study visits. Interest in the grants was high, and many good applications had to be rejected due to limited funds, which proved beneficial in terms of quality of the selected projects. The interest for cooperation grew each year. Slovenian institutions were eager to establish inter-institutional cooperation projects. Most of the projects concluded as planned, with all the activities carried out and good results. Many institutions implemented more with same or less funds, although some projects could not spend all of the funds due to national tax legislation. With 52 realised mobility and inter-institutional cooperation projects and further 62 preparatory or study visits carried out in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, the overall consumption of funds reached 94%.How were bilateral relations strengthened? The programme allowed for strengthening of bilateral relations, mutual understanding, trust, and the formation of a solid basis for long-term partnership. The bilateral dimension has proven especially appealing to the institutions implementing the projects. The mobility of students and staff enhanced bilateral relations at an individual level, and inter-institutional cooperation projects created bilateral cooperation that dealt with common challenges, and led to joint results and products. New teaching materials have been created (“Development of new e-Learning Tool in Horticulture” and “Active Learning with Information and Communication Technology” projects). New videos were filmed (“Balancing on the Border” project), joint publications written (“Forms of Assistance to Children with Autistic Disorder and their Families” and “Inclusion as the Pillar of School Culture” projects) and joint activities have been carried out (“United in Biodiversity” project). Festivals that existed in one country spread to many others (“Play with me” project). Many projects that initially involved selected individuals expanded into comprehensive school projects, affecting all staff and students, sometimes even spreading to other schools in Slovenia (“Outdoor Learning” project). Not only did most of the projects improve bilateral relations, but the results in the programme as a whole exceeded most of the initially set targets. A clear majority of the indicators set have been reached or exceeded. Overall results show immense interest for bilateral cooperation among elementary, secondary, and tertiary level education institutions, which indicates that it is worth maintaining such opportunities while also expanding to pre-schools and adult level education. Some of the shared challenges in Slovenian and donor country educational institutions are quality of teaching, inclusive education, sustainable development and environment, innovation, creativity, and multicultural dimensions. These topics were therefore the main topics addressed in the programme.What will be the impact of the programme? A majority of the projects expressed a clear intention to continue the cooperation with their partners from the donor countries. Concrete results, like products created during the programme period, will continue to be in use also after the programme ends. What is perhaps most notable is that many of the new relationships, friendships, and professional contacts developed will go on, with or without the programme. The young students made new friendships that opened their horizons, broke with barriers and stereotypes, and made them more aware, appreciative, and tolerant. The programme and its generous funding enabled the participation of plenty of students coming from underprivileged areas or families and, for many, mobility represented life-changing moments of self-awareness and value. Teachers at all levels met their peers and learned about similarities and differences in classrooms, which made them reflect, react, and change their ways, habits, and beliefs. That has many times reflected on their colleagues and consequently the whole school benefited from the projects. For institutions, which are often small and from rural areas, international cooperation brought a positive new image in their local environment and created many synergies. Plenty of synergies and cooperation opportunities occurred between the EEA and Norwegian Scholarship Programme and EU programmes during its implementation period. Last but not least, the impact of the programme can be seen on two levels. On a national level, the programme brought together three national organisations as programme operators and resulted in many joint activities. At a European level, it created new partnership with Donor Programme Partners in all three donor countries – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. This would not have been possible without such an effective and high-quality programme.