• Nearly 5 percent of EU students study abroad with the Erasmus scheme (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

EU student programme hits record popularity

10.07.14 @ 19:14

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - The EU’s student exchange programme, Erasmus, funded the studies of nearly 270,000 students in 2012/2013 - a record 15,000 more than the previous year, the European Commission said on Thursday (10 July).

At a press conference, education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou commented the rise is “proof of the enduring popularity of the project”.

Since its launch in 1987, the student-placement programme has become one of the most well-known EU policies, providing funds for 3 million students to study abroad.

It has now been expanded to pay for work-placements and for teacher training. One in five Erasmus students now choose a job-placement, Vassiliou said, adding that more than 52,000 university staff received grants in the 2012/2013 academic year.

The scheme applies to Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Turkey, as well as the 28 EU countries.

At over 39,000, Spain sent out the most Erasmus students for both studies and placements, followed by France and Germany. These three were also the most popular destinations for students. Spain topped the list with over 40,000 incoming students.

For its part, the 27,000 students hosted by the UK were almost twice as many as the 14,500 it sent abroad.

At 40 percent, Malta saw the highest increase in students using the programme, followed by Cyprus and Croatia.

Meanwhile, Lithuania, Spain, Latvia, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, all saw a decrease in Erasmus student numbers compared with the previous year.

The scheme paid out an average monthly grant of €272, ranging from just over €150 in Spain to over €600 for Lithuanian Erasmus students.

Nearly €15 billion has been allocated for the “Erasmus +” programme, which brings together the EU’s programmes for education and training, between now and 2020, and which the Commission says will fund the studies or work experience of 2 million students.

But if Erasmus’ popularity among students remains undimmed, national governments are increasingly less enthusiastic about paying for it.

Last November, as part of its ongoing austerity programme, the Spanish government cut a €120 per month living allowance which was paid on top of the standard EU-funded grant.

Other countries, including France and Belgium, have also pared back their national contributions to Erasmus students, with critics arguing that this would discourage students from poorer backgrounds from applying for the scheme.

Along with the European Social Fund, the programme has been threatened by the Commission’s periodic cash-flow crises, caused by a stand-off between the EU executive and national governments over EU budget top-ups.