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EU Commission Aims To Expand Erasmus Budget 70%, Doubling Students Involved

Androulla Vassiliou smiles back at MEPs during her hearing
Creative Commons License Androulla Vassiliou, member of the European Commission for education culture, multilingualism and youth. Photo Credit: European Parliament via Compfight

By Paul Glader, WiredAcademic Managing Editor

COPENHAGEN – The European Commission aims to expand the Erasmus study abroad program with the European Union as record numbers of students participate in the program

More than 231,000 students received Erasmus grants to study or train abroad in 2010-2011, an 8.5% increase to the previous year. Since it started in 1987 at the end of the Cold War and sent 3,000 students abroad its first year, Erasmus has sent 2.5 million European students to study or work abroad outside their home country.

“The figures speak for themselves – and would have been higher if we had the resources to match demand,” said Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. “Learning mobility will continue to be at the heart of the EU’s growth strategy and education policies.”

The EU Commission, which drafts legislation for the European Parliament and European Council to consider, is proposing an expansion of the Erasmus program, calling it “Erasmus For All.” It would bring together seven education programs (including Leonardo da Vinci, Comenius and Tempus) under one umbrella with a EUR 19 Billion budget between 2014 to 2020, a boost of 70% compared to the previous 7-year budget.  The legislation must be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

It would provide grants for 5 million students and faculty in that time frame, nearly doubling the number in the previous 25 years. At present, 10% of European students study or train abroad (4.5% of them receive an Erasmus grant). The EU wants that to reach 20% by 2020.  It would also send 735,000 vocational students to education and training programs abroad.

With a financial crisis wreaking havoc in the Eurozone economy, some nations such as Greece, Spain and Ireland are seeing unemployment among youth (ages 18 to 24) topping 20%.  Universities in Spain are some of the top senders and recipients of Erasmus students.

“We had a financial crisis and now it turned into an economic crisis,” said Michael Svarer, an economics professor at Aarhus University in Denmark. “Who is hit by it? It is often the young people.” His research indicates unemployment is higher for those with less education. Employment rates for the unskilled is only 50%, compared to 80% or more for those with a skills education or some education.

Dennis Abbott, a spokesman for commissioner Vassiliou, said the Erasmus program makes young people more employable. “You learn to be more adaptable as a person. You learn to be more aware interpersonally, to have more leadership skills,” he said, at a meeting in Copenhagen on Erasmus. “We are not pretending that Erasmus is going to sort out youth unemployment. It’s not,” he says. “But it does help.”

He said the Erasmus program is upping the number of grants to students opting for job placements abroad and that’s partly because of the high youth unemployment in some regions of Europe. “A lot of Erasmus students end up working abroad and working in different countries,” Abbott said. “It’s adding a few strings to your bow.”

The EU Commission aims to increase funding for job placement abroad by 30% this coming year, funding 130,000 job placements abroad in 2012 and 150,000 in 2013.  It also aims to add a loan facility of Eur 100 Million per year that would guarantee bank loans for roughly 50,000 graduate students per year who want to pursue a degree outside their home country.

Speakers at the Erasmus conference noted that it is the largest and most successful study abroad program in the world. While a bit behind American programs and universities that sent college students abroad, the EU has built a strong formalized program that supplies grants to individual students who want to study at a university in a different part of Europe for 3 months or up to two years.

Dr. Ladislav Daniel, vice rector at Palacky University in Olomouc in the Czech Republic, said he sees tremendous personal growth in the Erasmus students from abroad who arrive at his art history classes and in Czech students who go abroad to study. “Sometimes, they know only Czech and English when they travel to Italy, Portugal or the Netherlands,” he says. “They end up learning the language.” The experience expands their intellectual capabilities and their self confidence, he says.

Erasmus also provides grants that send young people to internships and job placements in other parts of Europe. It sends staff and faculty to teach at other institutions as well.  The streamlined Europe-wide program is now a model for other countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.


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