The Erasmus programme, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has supported around three million students to study or seek experience in another EU country since it was launched.
Erasmus would see funding fall from €15.2 billion to €13 billion
However, while the European Commission had hoped that five million people might enjoy financial support until 2020, the figure would be closer to four million if the cuts were approved, angering student groups.
“We hope that the European Parliament, which pledged last autumn to save the investments in education and youth, will demonstrate its political capacity to renegotiate the bill for Erasmus for all programme,” said Karina Ufert, Chairperson of the European Students’ Union.
The proposal, which could be decided upon this summer, follows calls for austerity which would see billions of euros slashed from the Council’s education and youth budget. The ESU complains that education and youth is being targeted despite representing just 1.4 per cent of the total EU budget; major budgets such as agriculture would see little change.
In 2014-2020, the new “Erasmus for All” programme would see funding fall from €15.2 billion to €13 billion in total – still a real terms increase on the 2007-13 budget. The EC would also channel €111 million a year into a student loan guarantee scheme, delivered by private banks, to support students taking full masters’ degrees in other EU countries.
This could have benefits as Erasmus only tends to only support one-year exchanges. However, there are questions about how many students would actually use the loans given current high levels of youth unemployment and concern over student debt. ESU is also worried about whether it would have a negative impact on the regional distribution of students in Europe, given some countries demand high tuition fees and others don’t.
“ESU believes it would be much wiser to strengthen the grant system [rather than roll out student loans],” it said in a statement. “Such an approach would provide more opportunities for students in Europe to get invaluable experience of studying abroad, improving foreign language abilities and soft skills, as well as enhancing their cultural awareness.”
For now it seems, the Erasmus Mundus programme, which extends exchange opportunities beyond EU borders will not be cut. The EC is trying to make it easier for non-EU students and researchers to enter and stay in the European community states, and from 2016 proposes improving the student visa process, access to the labour market, and academic mobility between states.
However, some argue that the growing prevalence of differentiated tuition fees for non-EU students in member states is blocking access. A study by ESU found that 23 of 26 EU member states now charge foreign students a differentiated rate.