The Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, hailed the Erasmus programme as “the embodiment of some of the greatest European ideals”, as she addressed academics in the Dining Hall this evening to mark the programme’s 30th anniversary.

The Erasmus programme, which has seen around five million students living and studying in other European countries, is “something that is a truly wonderful, inspiring and life-changing programme for so many people”, she said.

Turning her focus to the timely topic of post-Brexit Europe, McEntee said she would be working closely with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to launch a public engagement programme in the coming weeks “to use this debate as an opportunity to make sure that message is heard”.

Brexit is something that has concerned universities and academics across Europe as they try to create research links between European universities. McEntee spoke about the ongoing public debate on the matter: “An honest debate should be one that recognises that Europe is not perfect and I don’t think it ever will be.”

She reminded the audience that this debate provided an opportunity “to outline the huge benefits bestowed on Ireland through the European Union”, highlighting education and the Erasmus programme.

While she alluded to some dissatisfaction with the EU throughout her speech, McEntee sent a clear message on the government’s stance on the country’s position in the union: “We have concluded that our future interests are best served by remaining a firm member of the European Union.”

McEntee jokingly mentioned the fact that one million babies have come from couples who met on the Erasmus programme, saying that it was “the most interesting fact I’ve heard in the last few weeks”.

Introducing McEntee, Provost Patrick Prendergast said it was “particularly appropriate” to be marking this anniversary with the Coimbra group, which was set up in the run-up to the establishment of the Erasmus programme.

He praised the Erasmus programme, referencing his own time as a Council of Europe scholar in the University of Bologna: “I know from experience that there is no substitute for immersion in another culture and language.”

The academics are here in Trinity from 39 European universities for a seminar on “internationalisation of the curriculum”, organised by the Coimbra group.

This morning, the Provost spoke at the two-day seminar in the Long Room Hub. Prendergast warned academics that universities need “to adapt to the 21st century”, emphasising self-preservation and autonomy as important focuses for universities in the coming years.

The seminar is running today and tomorrow and is exploring themes of internationalisation, creating “global graduates” and curriculum development in the global context.

In a press statement, Prof Juergen Barkhoff, who organised the seminar, said: “The Erasmus programme is widely acknowledged as the most successful programme of the EU for forging a European identity. In difficult times for Europe, when neo-nationalism and isolationism are growing, there is a real danger that the vision of a peaceful Europe driven by the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ gets lost and is drowned out.”

McEntee was elected TD for Meath East in 2013. She previously served as Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People.