• Germany's news in English
 

Is Erasmus really worth its budget boost?

Published: 20 Nov 2013 16:17 GMT+01:00

Since its launch in 1988, the EU's flagship student programme has paid grants to over three million Europeans in higher education to study or work elsewhere in the Union.

The 2011-2012 academic year saw 3,328 learning institutions across Europe sending their students abroad on Erasmus placements, among them 33,363 of Germany's best and brightest.

And the "Erasmus+" project approved by the European parliament on Tuesday will invest in the scheme further, merging the student exchange with six other education initiatives to form a "streamlined" programme to give financial support to 4 million people, at a cost of €14.7 billion over seven years.

Around €4.9 billion of that is dedicated to grants for higher education and it represents around a 50 percent increase on Erasmus' budget for the previous seven years.

The new unified system will extend beneficiaries to include "youth leaders, volunteers and young sportsmen", according to the Parliament.

But with austerity-hit member states wrestling the EU's next seven-year budget down by €15 billion to €960 billion – the first cut to a multi-year plan in the Union's history - some are questioning why more taxpayer cash is being spent on non-means-tested grants to university students, while other initiatives are seeing cuts.

Stuart Agnew, an MEP from the anti-EU UK Independence Party, told the European Parliament on Tuesday he saw Erasmus as an unnecessary and "glorified" alternative to national-run programmes, and attacked it as the EU "cynically using" young people to "further its own objectives" in fostering "European values."

Spanish education minister Jose Ignacio Wert also criticized the Erasmus+ plans on Monday, when he claimed Spain – which sent and received more Erasmus students than any other EU member state in the 2011/2012 academic year – would have to halve their grant payments under the new programme's funding system.

But EU education spokesman Dennis Abbot dismissed the Spanish minister's announcement as "rubbish" and "totally false."

The scheme seemed in jeopardy back in October 2012 when it posted a €90 million budget deficit just as EU institutions faced an overall shortfall of €8.9 billion for the year.

EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso leapt to the scheme's defence. "These payments are essential to revive growth and jobs in Europe," he said in a statement in October last year.

Prominent Germans also showed support for the scheme in an open letter to budget negotiators in Brussels in October 2012, Stern magazine reported in November that year.

The letter, signed by a hundred people including actor Daniel Brühl and author Cornelia Funke, urged budgeters to come through for year abroad students. "We hope the Erasmus budget for 2012 and 2013 will be enough to fulfil the commitments already made," it said.

Erasmus means "thousands of people are given the chance for life-changing experiences", the letter added.

And as debate continued, students planning their years abroad at universities across the 28 EU member states were left unsure if they would receive funding for their own "life-changing experiences."

But when a last-minute agreement by European Parliament and member states plugged part of the shortfall with a €6 billion budget "top-up" in December, Erasmus was among the projects saved, with the Commission proudly announcing it would fund 280,000 exchange students in the 2013-2014 academic year.

So why has a programme which went €90 million over budget last year and came close to leaving thousands of year abroad hopefuls high and dry not just escaped budget cutbacks but netted further support and funds in the new EU seven-year  budget plan?

Brikena Xhomaqi, director of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), a body representing Erasmus students, told The Local the scheme stood out among EU programmes as a particular success.

"It is the only EU initiative that's worked well across all the member countries," she said, because it allows people to "travel across borders, make new friends and develop their European identity."

Doing an Erasmus placement also makes young people more employable, according to ESN treasurer Jonathan Jelves. "Just the experience itself is a huge challenge," he told The Local.

It is an "empowering experience" and "forces people to grow and become independent," he added.

Students return from Erasmus "having matured a great deal," he said, and "are ahead of their peers." "They are more effective, productive workers," compared to the average graduate, he said.

Jelves also extolled the value of Erasmus to the European job market. "Erasmus students become very mobile, not afraid to move around," he said.

"They don't have this fear of going to work in a new country with a new language because they've already done it," he explained.

READ MORE: Former Chancellor says Britain a problem within the EU

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Alex Evans (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German kids 'growing up sitting down'
Photo: DPA

German kids 'growing up sitting down'

Too much sitting is bad for you, as we all know. But health experts warned on Monday that half of German children have firmly adopted the sedentary and damaging habits of their parents. READ  

Business makes confident start to 2015
A worker checks compensators in a Baden-Württemberg factory. Photo: DPA

Business makes confident start to 2015

German businesses are confident about the outlook for Europe's biggest economy, a new poll showed on Monday, as a weaker euro and falling oil prices are set to boost the country's exporters. READ  

'Stick to the plan': Germany to Greece
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates the party's election victory on Sunday. Photo: DPA

'Stick to the plan': Germany to Greece

UPDATE:German Chancellor Angela Merkel expects the new Greek government to uphold its commitments to international creditors, her spokesman said Monday after the electoral triumph of Greece's anti-austerity leftists Syriza. READ  

Give refugees holiday homes: Berlin official
Monika Herrmann attempts to mediate in a refugee dispute in 2014. Photo: DPA

Give refugees holiday homes: Berlin official

Amid rising tensions around the Pegida movement, a Berlin official stirred alarm on Monday with a proposal to commandeer private holiday apartments to house asylum seekers. READ  

Parties welcome Gabriel's Pegida meeting
Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel in Dresden on Friday. Photo: DPA

Parties welcome Gabriel's Pegida meeting

Politicians welcomed Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's controversial decision to meet members of anti-Islam movement Pegida on Friday. READ  

Self-driving cars to hit German Autobahn
Hopefully there won't be any roadworks on the test stretch. Photo: DPA

Self-driving cars to hit German Autobahn

A section of the A9 Autobahn in Bavaria will be converted into a test route for self-driving cars, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said on Monday. READ  

 Deutsche Bahn wins allies in air cartel suit
Deutsche Bahn's HQ in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Photo: Volker Emersleben/DB

Deutsche Bahn wins allies in air cartel suit

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn said Sunday it has been joined by several companies in a 2.9 €billion euro lawsuit against Lufthansa and other airlines for fixing air cargo prices. READ  

Merkel phones Putin over Ukraine violence
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: DPA

Merkel phones Putin over Ukraine violence

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Sunday to "put pressure" on Ukraine's pro-Kremlin separatists to end a recent upsurge in violence. READ  

New anti-Islam march draws 17,000  people
The Pegida demonstration in Dresden on Sunday. Photo: Arno Burgi/dpa

New anti-Islam march draws 17,000 people

Thousands of people joined a march by the anti-Islamisation PEGIDA movement on Sunday, the group's first rally since threats surfaced against the group and its leader resigned over "Hitler" photos. READ  

Anti-Muslim rallies 'hurt Germany's image'
Police prepare for the demonstration on Sunday on Dresden's Theaterplatz. Photo: Arno Burgi/dpa

Anti-Muslim rallies 'hurt Germany's image'

Hours before a new rally in Dresden by the anti-Islamisation PEGIDA movement on Sunday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the group's sentiments were harming the nation's image. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

1,428
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd