As Europe celebrates its flagship educational mobility programme, lawmakers in the European Parliament are fighting to increase the budget for what is widely regarded as one of the EU’s greatest achievements.
This year’s Erasmus days are the fourth iteration of 3-day festivities on the continent and beyond to celebrate Europe’s flagship education programme.
Erasmus has garnered 10 million alumni since its inception in 1987, and polls suggest it is seen by Europeans as the EU’s greatest achievement after the free movement of people and the establishment of a lasting peace on the old continent.
First launched in 2017 by the programme’s French national agency to mark the 30th anniversary of Erasmus, the festivities have grown from 700 events organised mostly in France and a dozen other European countries to a worldwide network of more than 5,000 activities in 82 countries.
Even the organisers were surprised by the continued growth in appetite for the festivities. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of activities in 2020 has grown by more than a thousand, including open door events, virtual meetings, photo exhibitions, online escape games and radio shows.
“This year, more than ever, we need the Erasmus Days to celebrate the unique opportunities offered by the programme, and to convey a message of strength and resilience to the whole Erasmus+ community,” said Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth.
The latest addition to the growing list of participating countries is Kenya, where a local comedian and model will take over the EU delegation’s Facebook page to celebrate the educational programme which allows European and international students to study and gain training abroad.
The involvement of all players around the events, including national Erasmus+ offices as well as EU delegations and embassies, “is a major proof of the Erasmus+ programme being the soft power of the European Union through education and training policies,” said Sabine Verheyen, a German Christian Democrat who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on culture and education.
The impressive growth of the event came as a stark reminder that the European Parliament’s push to get more funding for the programme enjoys broad support from the general public.
At a marathon summit in July, EU leaders have agreed to fund the programme with €21.2 billion, a 52.5% increase compared to the previous long-term budget. However, this figure remains below the Commission’s original ask of €26.4 billion, and ever further away from the Parliament’s proposal of €41.1 billion.
Boosting funding for Erasmus is one of the main demands of MEPs in the ongoing budget negotiations with the Council.
Asked by EURACTIV, lawmakers said they were trying hard to increase the budget for Erasmus.
“We need the tripling of the budget to invest in a greener Erasmus for sustainable travels across Europe, to give access to mobility opportunities to all …, including those with fewer opportunities, and to invest more in the digitalisation of education and online exchanges for teachers and students,” Verheyen said.
Critics say however that the Commission’s proposal was unrealistic because it aspired to triple the number of people receiving Erasmus training by 2027 with only a doubling of the budget.
The figures agreed by EU heads of states would hence fall well short of providing sufficient financial support for the Commission’s ambition of reaching 12 million by 2027 compared to 4 million in 2014-2020.
Studies have consistently shown the far-reaching benefits of the programme. Students with Erasmus experience are generally more mobile, more civically minded and prone to volunteering, as well as more engaged in elections, including at the European level.
Research has also shown that participation in Erasmus-funded activities improve employability, job satisfaction, and contribute to the creation of a European identity.
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)