Record numbers of students are going abroad for university studies or company placements under the EU's Erasmus scheme, revealed new figures released by the European Commission yesterday (21 June).
Almost 200,000 students received EU grants to study or train abroad during the period 2008-2009, the Commission said, representing an increase of 8.7% on the previous academic year.
The Erasmus programme, which celebrated its two millionth student last summer, allows young people to spend part of their university studies at a foreign institution.
In the 2008-2009 academic year, 198,600 students went to one of the 31 countries that participated in the Erasmus programme. Iceland. Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey took part in the scheme alongside the EU's 27 member states, while Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have since been added.
Presenting the figures in Brussels yesterday, Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, said Erasmus is a key part of the 'Youth on the Move' initiative, which will be presented in September and is one of the flagship policies of the new Commission.
Scheme set for overhaul
"There'll be a total overhaul of Erasmus for 'Youth on the Move' in September. The revamp will consider political issues, and modernise and open up European universities," Vassiliou said.
"We'll look at all our youth policies to identify shortfalls, but Erasmus has been a success story and will be retained. What we want to do is simplify application procedures," she explained.
The number of Erasmus students increased in all countries except Iceland and Liechtenstein. France (28,300 students), Germany (27,900) and Spain (27,400) sent the most, while Luxembourg (15.5%), Liechtenstein (3%) and Austria (1.9%) sent the highest proportion of their student population.
The biggest increases, however, were in the number of students opting for placements in foreign firms, with participation up 50% on the previous year.
168,200 students received Erasmus support to pursue studies abroad and spent an average of six months at their host university.
The most popular destinations were Spain (33,200 students), France (24,600) and Germany (22,000).
As for Central and East European member states, they send more Erasmus students abroad than they receive, which Vassiliou said was a result of the "language issue". "We're looking to make it easier for people from old member states to go to new ones," she said.
The Commission put the record numbers down to a 12% increase in the budget available for the scheme that year. The average monthly grant per student in 2008-2009 was €272, compared with €255 previously.
"The budget increase allowed us to send more students abroad and increase their monthly grant," said Vassiliou.
However, the EU executive warned that lower budget increases in the years to come will make it "difficult for the programme to expand at similar rates in the near future without additional resources".
Critics of the scheme argue that the EU should not be spending money on such initiatives.
Last year, UK-based think-tank Open Europe published a study arguing that Commission funding allocated under its education and culture programmes, including for initiatives such as the Erasmus student mobility scheme, aim to "buy loyalty" by "promoting European citizenship and a common European culture," in an effort "to engender support for the EU" (EurActiv 29/01/09).
A spokesman for the EU executive responded at the time by saying that it "makes no apologies" for spending money on such programmes, because national governments have been asking it to do so since the Treaty of Rome.
"More and more young Europeans are benefiting from a learning experience abroad during their studies. Ask those who have joined the ‘Erasmus generation’ and they will tell you how it has helped them in their academic and personal development, as well as in finding a job after their studies," said EU Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, presenting the figures in Brussels yesterday.
"With the upcoming 'Youth on the Move' initiative we want to expand this European success story and make it an opportunity for all young people," Vassiliou added.
- Sept. 2010: Commission to present overhaul of Erasmus as part of its 'Youth on the Move' initiative.