It takes something special to make students take notice of an accounting dispute at the European institutions, but that's exactly what happened after it became clear there was not enough money in the EU's 2012 budget to fund the popular Erasmus programme. If the shortfall was not covered, it would affect a range of EU initiatives from research to support for unemployed workers. However, it was when it became known that the funding gap could affect Erasmus that students took to social media in their thousands to protest.
Erasmus was launched in 1985 to encourage students to study in another EU country as part of their degree. In 1987 just 3,244 made use of the opportunity, but it quickly became popular and today 200,000 students participate every year. This means that since the start of the programme more than two million people have been able to study abroad. Many UK students take part and through the years it has proved to be one of the most popular destinations alongside Spain, Germany and France. Erasmus is also very popular in Ireland.
Students participate for a variety of reasons. They usually cite the chance to improve their career prospects, the possibility of learning another language and being able to travel and meet people from other countries.
Research shows Erasmus more than delivers on these goals. About two thirds of participants study the language and a similar percentage said that they took part in organised activities such as sport or culture. It also improved their career chances. One study surveyed people who had done Erasmus five years beforehand. Of these, 75% said it had helped them to find a job and about 50% said it was still relevant to their current job. Students who take part in Erasmus are also far more likely to work abroad later. About a fifth of them have worked in another country compared to the European average of less than 3%.
It also affects how they think about Europe. A comparison of former Sussex University students showed that those who had taken part in Erasmus were more likely to be positive about the European Union and follow European politics.
Erasmus also benefits the host country. In one study students taking part in the programme said it had enabled them to understand the country they were in much better and the majority of them claimed they now felt emotionally attached to it. It's the sort of good will that is priceless and could be a great help in forging greater commercial and cultural links between countries.
It's no wonder then that the European Parliament has been so keen to defend the Erasmus programme. It significantly boosts career prospects and improves engagement in the European project.
That is why Parliament fought so hard to get member states to cover the 2012 shortfall. The end result, as is often the case, was a compromise. Member states declined to cover the full amount but pledged enough money to ensure Erasmus and other programmes were able to continue. To avoid similar problems next year, Parliament negotiated an agreement with the European Commission and the Council that the use of funds would be actively monitored throughout the year and that any shortfalls would be dealt with.
With that the future of the Erasmus programme should be safe for now.
The next blog will appear in the first week of January 2013.
Infographic ©European Parliament