As Erasmus turns 30, politicians and teachers have called for a massive increase to the programme’s funding. Hugely popular and undeniably successful, Erasmus is currently accessible to just 7% of young people. EURACTIV France reports.
“€17 billion out of a €1 trillion budget is not enough for this important tool of citizenship,” said Harlem Désir, the French minister of European Affairs. Like the majority of the participants at the 30th anniversary celebrations in Paris yesterday (9 January), Désir believes the success of the Erasmus programme is a clear case for more funding.
The anniversary event brought together teachers, students and politicians, including the French ministers of education, labour and European affairs, as well as Italian Europe minister Sandro Gozi and French European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.
Erasmus has changed a great deal since its modest beginnings as a student exchange programme three decades ago. Since then, a total of five million people have taken part, including 600,000 from France. And the number is accelerating.
Currently, 35,000 French secondary school and university students, as well as 16,000 apprentices, take part in Erasmus each year, according to the ministry of education.
“We often hear politicians saying they will extend Erasmus to apprentices, but this has already been done,” said Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
The next objective, which is not due to be completed until 2020, is to extend the programme to people in professional training.
The Erasmus budget was increased by 40% for the period 2014-2020. But while reaches just 7% of all 18-25 year-olds, three quarters would like to benefit from the scheme, given the opportunity.
And with good reason: 100% of Erasmus students recommend the programme.
For Italian minister Gozi, himself a former Erasmus student at the Sorbonne in Paris, the programme’s resources should be massively increased. “With a budget of €150bn, we would have ten times more exchanges,” the minister said, before being brought down to earth by Commissioner Moscovici.
“The problem is that the European budget represents less than 1% of the GDP of the member states. This is not enough, by a long way,” the Commissioner for economic and financial affairs said.
“We spend 40% of the EU budget on agriculture, 40% on structural funds, whose effectiveness is questionable, and too little on human capital and research,” he added, in a call for a rethink of the EU’s budgetary priorities post-2020.
The political challenges related to the programme were only tentatively raised. “Education should play a role in citizenship education, in learning the freedom of expression,” said Vallaud-Belkacem.
She mentioned the terrorist attack carried out against Charlie Hebdo in Paris two years ago, after which EU education ministers tried to establish a European citizenship programme.
“At a time when some people want education to be purely national and mobility to be reserved for the elite, we should highlight the benefits of the EU,” the minister added.
But the strongest message of support for the European dream came from Naliaa Vakulenko, a young Ukrainian Erasmus student on exchange at the University of Amiens, who took part in the Euromaidan demonstrations in 2014.
“We fought for the right to become part of the EU. Many of us died, very young people gave their lives to change the world,” the young woman said. She encouraged participants in the Erasmus programme to realise their dreams.
“We are living in a time when certain people like to say that enlargement was a bad thing and that it should stop. My father was of Romanian origin and my mother Polish. Europe has to be an open society. We have to do this cultural groundwork to establish what Europe really is so that it remains a reality,” said Moscovici.
Built on the foundations of pilot student exchanges between 1981 and 1986, the Erasmus programme was adopted on 15 June 1987 by the Education Council. At the time, the programme only involved 12 countries: Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
In the 1987-88 academic year, Erasmus allowed 3,244 students to study abroad.
Over the last 30 years, the programme has given more than five million people, including 3.3 million students, the chance to travel and live abroad. In the 1990s the programme was exclusively for students, but the more recent Erasmus+ programme is aimed at a more varied audience: primary, secondary and professional school pupils, apprentices, job-seekers, students, young volunteers, education and training professionals, youths and sports clubs.
Since 2014, the Erasmus+ programme has brought together 33 participant countries and 169 partner countries around the world.