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12th Aug 2022

Poor students lose out in EU Erasmus scheme

Twenty years after the EU launched its student exchange programme Erasmus, the poorest students still find it difficult to take part in it. Meanwhile, participants from the new member states benefit much more in terms of better jobs than their west European counterparts.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday (7 December) formally triggered a series of events to mark the next year's anniversary of what is widely considered as one of the most successful projects of the EU.

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Speaking to journalists and a group of international students currently taking their semester at some of the Belgium's universities, Mr Barroso pointed out that while the idea of studying abroad dated back to the Middle Ages, Erasmus has made it possible for more than just elites.

"These students are the best ambassadors of our European Union," he said, followed by students' applause - quite an unusual sound in the commission's press headquarters.

But education commissioner Jan Figel stressed that "the Erasmus grant remains far too low to allow students from less favourable financial backgrounds to enjoy its benefits."

According to a report conducted by the commission, the last year's average grant to participate in Erasmus was €140 per month while the students' additional expense varied strongly depending on whether the student still lived with their parents at home or not.

"The proportion of students from considerably lower than average income families are disproportionately represented amongst the students who considered their financial situation poor during their Erasmus period," concluded the report.

The Erasmus programme was introduced in June 1987, with over 3,200 students participating in its first year. The number had risen to almost 150,000 students from 31 countries last year - altogether 1 percent of Europe's students.

The EU's goal is to boost that figure further - up to 3 million by 2012, with commissioner Figel stressing that in order to boost numbers and improve chances for poorer students, the member states should contribute - by both extra funds and PR for the exchange programme.

Study abroad no longer key advantage

According to the commission's survey, Erasmus students currently start seeking their first job later and it takes them less time than in the past - four months in average - but their study abroad has less of a positive impact for being hired than in early years of the exchange programme.

"The more international components of employment and work become common and the more students acquire international competences, the less pronounced is the professional value of Erasmus," concluded the report.

Its authors also pointed out students from the new member states benefit "substantially" more in terms of professional follow-up thanks to Erasmus experience than their west European counterparts.

Commissioner Figel added that there are also still far more outgoing students from these countries than those coming to study in central and eastern European universities from the West.

Spain and Italy dominate on the list of twenty most attractive destinations for European students, with only Berlin (15th), Sweden's Lund (16th) and Vienna (19th) slipping through to the list of most wanted.

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