The Erasmus programme has been hugely successful in its 25 year history, giving almost three million students the opportunity to study or work in another European country. But in recent years it's had to endure risks of funding shortfalls due to European governments' ongoing wrangles over the EU budget.
Most recently, until mid-December, the Erasmus programme was at risk of being underfunded before member states and the European Parliament reached an agreement on the overall EU budget for 2013, including that for Erasmus. The scheme needed an additional €90 million and it was feared that this could lead to universities substantially reducing the number of places offered to students for the second semester of the 2012-13 academic year or to cutting the
level of Erasmus grants.
Erasmus is part of the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP), which also covers vocational education and training, school education and adult education. It accounts for around 45 per cent of the LLP budget, which in turn received €925 million of the total EU budget for 2012 (€133 billion).
Despite some member states' unwillingness to increase the EU budget, such as Britain, the Commission wants to invest more in student mobility through international university exchange within Europe. The overall EU budget for the 2007-2013 budgetary period was €975 billion. The LLP gets a share of €7 billion. Just over €3 billion has been made available for Erasmus, which enables students in higher education to spend between three and twelve months in another European country either to study or complete a placement in a company
The total proposed EU budget for 2014-20 is just over one trillion euros. The budget proposed for the LLP (or the new Erasmus for All programme) is €19 billion, an increase of roughly 70 per cent on the current seven-year budgetary period. Budget talks between the European Commission, Parliament and Council will resume at the beginning of 2013.
Now that the full funding for Erasmus students has been made available for 2013, around 270,000 students across Europe will benefit from the scheme this academic year, which will also see the total number of Erasmus students since the launch of the scheme in 1987 reach three million.
Funding increases over recent years and greater awareness of the programme and its benefits have made the scheme extremely popular. During the 2010-11 academic year, out of 231,408 Erasmus students, 190,495 went abroad for studies, an increase of 7.2 per cent on 2009-10.
The majority of countries send out more students than they host. In 2010-11, Spain sent out most students for studies and placements (36,183), followed by France (31,747) and Germany (30,274). The UK, however, goes against this trend. While it hosted 24,474 students from other European countries in 2010-11, it sent out only 12,833 British students in the same year.
Despite this imbalance, the scheme's popularity has been growing in the UK. Latest statistics from the British Council, the national agency which distributes Erasmus grants to universities and students, show that in 2011-12, 13,665 British students chose to study or work for up to a year in Europe through the Erasmus programme, compared to just 9,020 in 2000-01.
Personal and professional benefits
Many students return from their Erasmus year as more confident and mature young people. "They are less afraid of talking in front of an audience," says Dr Laetitia Calabrese, a French language studies co-ordinator at Queen Mary, University of London. "In terms of language, most of them come back with more fluency using colloquial vocabulary and set phrases. Students also return with a developed capacity of analysis."
Natalie Soper, who studied in France and Spain as part of the programme a couple of years ago, says that her Erasmus experience "drastically improved my linguistic abilities, including skills that I could put on my CV, such as finding a flat in a Spanish city in two days. It taught me how adaptable I could be."
In addition to the personal benefits of the Erasmus experience, it also prepares British students as contributors to the UK and global economy. A recent study by the Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFC) on academic achievement of students who had studied abroad showed in general their salary in their first employment was better than that of students who didn't participate in the programme.
For example, 37 per cent of placement year students had a salary at least £20,000, compared to 29 per cent of those who did some Erasmus study abroad and 15 per cent of other students who did a three-year course in the UK without spending a study period abroad.
"The fact that the programme is of such an advantage to the individual will inevitably mean that their contribution to the wider economy is a positive one," says David Hibler, Erasmus programme manager at the British Council. "It makes them consider options of working abroad more seriously. It prepares them for the world we live in today, where jobs are very often global and involve an expectation that you work in another country as well as your own."
Chris Smout, a marketing executive at research company Campden Media with a background in recruitment, highlights the importance of language skills developed through the Erasmus programme when students start looking for work. "As the world becomes smaller, it follows that companies have to consider that they can woo clients and sell more if they are able to work in the language that their audience uses."
After all the talk about funding shortages, Erasmus students will not have to worry about getting their Erasmus grants in full and on time, as least in the first half of 2013. However, given the EU budget's recent history and the Commission's warning that further budget shortfalls for Erasmus students are to be expected next year, it's hard to rule out fresh underfunding issues at the end of 2013.
Photo by NTNU Engineering Science and Technology via Flickr under a CC licence