• Germany edition
 
Is Erasmus really worth its budget boost?
Students celebrate "International Day" on November 6th at the Viadrina University in Frankfurt an der Oder. Photo: DPA

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
Germany frees female Russian spy early
Photo: DPA

Germany frees female Russian spy early

A Russian spy, jailed in Germany with her husband last year, has been freed early and allowed to return home, media reports said Friday, suggesting a possible prisoner swap. READ  

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge
Andreas Van Knorre being transported by Singapore police. Photo: Wallace Woon/DPA

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge

Two German men were charged Saturday with breaking into a Singapore metro depot and spray-painting graffiti on a train, offences punishable by jail time and flogging with a cane. READ  

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/DPA

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard

A relative of late German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt lodged a claim Friday for his inheritance, a Nazi-era art hoard which he has bequested to a Swiss museum, a spokesman said. READ  

Schweinsteiger poised for Bayern return
Photo: Andreas Gerbert/DPA

Schweinsteiger poised for Bayern return

Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is set to make his first Bundesliga appearance since the World Cup final on Saturday, Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola said. READ  

Suspected ETA identity forger detained
Photo: DPA

Suspected ETA identity forger detained

German state prosecutors on Friday said they have taken a Spanish national suspected of forging identification papers for Basque terrorist movement ETA while working at a university into custody. READ  

False teeth trigger school ‘poisoning’ scare
Photo; DPA

False teeth trigger school ‘poisoning’ scare

Emergency services showed up in force at a Ruhr school on Friday after a schoolgirl mistakenly treated her friends to grandpa’s denture cleansing tablets rather than vitamins. READ  

German bikes to carry Ebola lab samples
A doctor at a Guinean Ebola clinic in October. Photo: DPA

German bikes to carry Ebola lab samples

Germany has sent 400 motorbikes to the areas of West Africa worst hit by the Ebola epidemic to speed up testing for the virus. READ  

Merkel’s 1.5 tonne Xmas tree hits the road
Photo: DPA

Merkel’s 1.5 tonne Xmas tree hits the road

Donated by a private forestry concern, the 21-year-old fir was felled and loaded on a truck on Friday and dispatched to Berlin. READ  

Police arrest man over Russia-proof bunker
Weapons found by police in the bunker. Photo: DPA

Police arrest man over Russia-proof bunker

Police in Kelheim said on Friday they had arrested a man who hoarded guns, ammunition and bomb-making material in a nuclear-proof family bunker he built fearing an attack by Russia. READ  

Far-right agenda gains ground in middle class
AfD leader Bernd Lucke celebrates election results in Potsdam in September: Photo: DPA

Far-right agenda gains ground in middle class

Overt xenophobia and fascism have lost a lot of ground in Germany in recent years. But a new survey of attitudes shows a creeping tendency in moderate society to sympathise with core ideas of the far right in private. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Photo: DPA
Politics
Can 'sorry' ever be enough for the Linke?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles through December 19th
Sponsored Article
Ever wanted to try out home exchange?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
National
Which city is the worst for car crashes?
Photo: DPA
National
The folly of the foreigner road charge
Photo: DPA
National
The man who stopped Germany's trains
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
How to replace retiring baby boomers
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Finger slicer's insurance scam fails
Photo: DPA
Gallery
See how Berlin has changed in 22 photos
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Want to study in Germany? These are the subjects to choose
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
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

3,316
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists
Click here for the full job description
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd