26 years after its inception, the Erasmus Programme is more popular than ever. However, many criticise the scale of the programme; the more it grows, the more its relative advantages decrease. Others argue that mobility in Europe is still too low and internationalisation should be on top of the EU agenda. In the upcoming month, a new overarching platform called Erasmus+, will be launched. Its exact contents are yet to be announced, but in times of crisis, the programme’s budget stirs debate.
Last year Erasmus celebrated its 25th anniversary. The programme encompasses 4000 institutions in 33 countries. For the past 7 years, the Erasmus Programme has been part of the overarching Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-2013 (LLP) – itself the successor of the Socrates Programme. The Erasmus Programme took up about 40 % of the € 8 billion LLP budget.
Next month, the European parliament will decide on the final structure of the new platform, dubbed Erasmus + 2014-2020. The new overarching structure expands its mobility projects far beyond higher education, into fields such as training, youth and sports.
The name-change conveys a more vague, overall positive meaning. One might wonder if it somehow reflects an engagement towards a more inclusive, accessible and democratic programme.
The previous programme’s success was based on institutional harmonisation and affordability. Efforts were made to ensure easy accreditation and recognition of courses taken up at guest institutions. Furthermore, students simply had to pay regular enrolment fees at their home institution and had access to a scholarship.
The costs of the Erasmus programme and its framework structure were shared between the EU and its member states. Today, the strain of the economic crisis has made governments more reluctant to engage in Erasmus+.
In Spain, the government announced to cut spending for the current and future programme. Madrid’s decision meant that Spanish students already abroad were forced to access additional funds or return home.
Last month, many Spanish students have protested against these cutbacks. The students addressed the issue with an online petition – accompanied by a trending video. The petition argues austerity measures in education are unwise as they affect competitiveness. It gathered about 200.ooo signatures.
Contrary to what the young Spanish protestors argue, a 2006 report of the International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER), pointed out that the professional advantage of an Erasmus experience has declined over time. The INCHER findings are reflected in general attitudes held by students: in 1988, 71 % of Erasmus students indicated their experience abroad as a significant advantage in finding a job, in 2000, only 54% of former Erasmus students shared this opinion.
Fraternité 2020, the first attempt to an EU citizens’ initiative, argues that despite the Erasmus Programme’s tremendous growth, only about 1 % of EU students participate in an Erasmus Exchange Programme. The initiative eventually collected only 71,000 signatures. An EU citizens’ initiative requires 1 million signatures to reach Brussels.
Nevertheless, the programme is praised for increasing intercultural-, language-, networking- and adaptability skills. Strong support for the programme can also be traced back to the EU’s unifying ideology. Mr Barosso, President of the European Commission, promised to increase the budget for Erasmus+ to € 16 billion.
Up to now, support for the Erasmus Programme and its overarching Erasmus+ structure is assured from the side of the European Union. Developments on Erasmus are sure to test European solidarity and the European project in the near future.