Saturday

2nd Mar 2024

Opinion

Poorer students from east Europe priced out of Erasmus

  • With only €600/month offered to a Romanian student to study in Paris, you cannot even find suitable accommodation — let alone a coffee and a croissant (Photo: Conor Lawless/Flickr)
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A student who wants to go study in another European country, must lead the lifestyle of a Franciscan priest, who carefully counts his every cent, every outing, every meal, rendering his life more isolated because he will always have to brutally balance social life with basic necessities.

The Erasmus+ experience for students coming from more modest backgrounds is a real challenge, and we are not referring to the academic aspect. For instance, in Romania, many students work alongside their studies to cover rent and living expenses.

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Consequently, studying abroad becomes a struggle that deviates from the programme's original objective, as students are constantly under financial pressure.

Erasmus+ is one of the most popular European programmes that embodies the spirit of free movement of students and teachers across Europe, but we have a problem. Erasmus+ fails to cater to everyone's needs, favouring the more fortunate students that have disposable means and mercilessly disregarding the ones that do not enjoy such a silver spoon.

In the wake of the pandemic and during this inflation crisis, the time has come to reconsider the programme and address the inequality embedded in it, in order to make Erasmus+ appealing and accessible to all.

As members of the European Parliament from two different countries (Denmark and Romania), we are currently questioning how we can improve the accessibility of the programme. The basic question is who benefits the most from this programme?

With only €600/month offered to a Romanian student to study in Paris, you cannot even find suitable accommodation, making enjoying a croissant and a coffee with your new friends a wish upon a star.

Last year, during the EU budget negotiations for 2023, the parliament successfully advocated for adjusting the grants to account for inflation, raising the minimum grant in Romania to €674 per month.

Numerous student testimonies highlight the accessibility issues of Erasmus+, prompting the need for reform. As for the student mobility part, grants are insufficient and students from lower income backgrounds are discouraged from studying abroad, calculating with dread the additional costs they would have to cover.

Thus, the programme's spirit needs to change by increasing the grants based on students' living expenses. We understand the appeal of bringing in high numbers of students, the EU Commission boasting their 10 million participants, but if this is being achieved by completely overlooking the socio-economic background of the students, we are stripping away opportunities from a big group of potential participants, risking going against the very ethos of creating opportunities and inclusion that the programme was founded upon.

Nobody gets left behind should genuinely apply, which is why we advocate for greater equality in the Erasmus+ program.

To address these concerns, we have initiated a signature collection campaign in Romania called "Erasmus+ Equality." This initiative aims to gather signatures from dissatisfied students in Romania who believe that the grants should cover their needs while studying abroad, without relying on additional financial support. It emphasizes real accessibility and inclusion.

So far, we have gathered over 785 signatures. We call upon European students to join our initiative and support it. Once we gain broader support across the continent, we intend to approach the European Commission and persuade them to increase the grants for students mobility and that inclusivity is more important than having a high number of participants.

The key lies in financing. Although the current Erasmus+ budget for the 2021-2027 period was nearly doubled to €26bn, it appears that fewer students are benefiting from the program than intended by the parliament.

The European Parliament had aimed to triple the budget of Erasmus+ during the negotiations. This year, the commission will propose a revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). As the initial budget was negotiated prior to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the current inflation rate, it is essential to seize this opportunity to address this inequality issue.

We urge the commission to increase funding for Erasmus+ and raise the grants.

As for the funding resources, renegotiating the MFF allows the Commission to request larger contributions from member states based on their gross national income. Currently, the EU budget is financed with only one percent of the GNI contributions.

We call upon the commission to prepare changes so that in the 2024 university year, students would no longer be afraid to embark on an Erasmus+ and experience Europe as inclusive as it should be.

Author bio

Nicolae Stefanuta is a Romanian Green MEP. Rasmus Andresen is a Danish Green MEP.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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