• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Is Erasmus really worth its budget boost?

Alex Evans · 20 Nov 2013, 16:17

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."

Story continues below…

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 news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Alex Evans (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Gallery
15 pics that prove Germany is totally enchanting in autumn
The Max-Eyth-See in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA.

As summer fades into a distant memory and you start to begrudge trading Birkenstocks for boots, these pictures may help change your perspective on the new chill in the air.

Left politician who smuggled refugee could lose immunity
Diether Dehm. Photo: DPA.

Die Linke (Left Party) politician Diether Dehm could lose his immunity as an elected official after he admitted to smuggling a refugee into Germany.

Merkel party leader admits sexism is a problem
Jenna Behrends complained that a member of CDU's Berlin government had called her a "big sweet mouse" in front of a large group. Photo: Sophia Kembowski/dpa

A leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party admitted Sunday that it has a problem with sexism in its ranks.

Ethiopia's Bekele nears record in Berlin marathon win
Participants in the Berlin marathon take to the streets on Sunday. Photo:Paul Zinken/dpa

Kenenisa Bekele narrowly missed out on the world record on Sunday as the Ethiopian won the Berlin marathon ahead of former winner Wilson Kipsang.

Europe needs deals to send migrants home: Merkel
Angela Merkal poses with Bulgaria's Prime minister Boyko Borissov (L) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (R) in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Europe needs to secure more deals to send rejected migrants home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told counterparts in Vienna.

Germany sees 'turning point' in birth rate decline
Children at a a kindergarten in Swabia. Photo: Nikolaus Lenau/Flickr

Is Germany's three-decade decline in birth rate now over?

Trump protesters rebuild and tear down 'Berlin Wall'
The 'Stop Trump' protest at the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA.

US expats gathered at the Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate on Friday "rebuild" the Berlin Wall and protest US presidential candidate Donald Trump's own proposed wall-building.

Accusation of sexism within Merkel's party creates uproar
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel, two leading women in the CDU party. Photo: DPA.

A young politician from the ranks of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has caused a storm by suggesting that the party is institutionally sexist.

EasyJet 'in talks to buy German airline' to duck Brexit
Photo: DPA

EasyJet is in talks to acquire TUIfly, a board member of the German carrier said Friday, as the British no-frills airline looks for ways to keep flying freely within the EU after Britain quits the bloc.

Symbols of migrant plight to go on show in Bonn museum
Photo: DPA

A people smugglers' car, a dinghy and a life jacket are among items related to Europe's migration crisis due to go on display at a German museum.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
5,643
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd