The Death of Erasmus?

Anastasia Reynolds warns that the end of the Erasmus programme is looming.

Bristol David Cameron demo2012 erasmus EU students

This week, thousands of students gathered in London to demonstrate against further cuts to education – deep, wounding cuts from which higher education may never recover.

Far away from the noise and protests in London, in a shiny boardroom, politicians from the 27 European Union member states gathered to discuss the EU budget – not just for 2013, but for the next seven years.

These events may seem unrelated, but in fact they are both linked to the terrifying destruction of higher education prospects for students in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron, with his vehemently anti-Europe attitude, is resisting proposals for a higher EU budget on the grounds that the UK cannot afford it.

He is making a huge, horrible mistake.

In vetoing a larger EU budget, the Prime Minister is simply continuing his campaign to close educational doors, one by one. The EU has recently put out a statement that, unless it gets some hard cash, and quickly, the Erasmus scheme will be – if not cut – severely curtailed.

Erasmus enables 230,000 students – including 13,000 from the UK – to work and study abroad every year. 4,000 universities and colleges across Europe are members of the scheme.

Whilst studying abroad, students benefit from non-repayable financial support (an average of €250 per month) and universities receive subsidies in place of tuition fees.

Unfortunately, Erasmus is already in financial difficulties. Its popularity means the scheme has expanded every year. Sadly, its budget allowance has not increased at the same rate.

Erasmus was offered €137.7 billion for the 2012-13 academic year. It received a substantially lower sum: €129 billion, worth even less in real terms as it carried forward €5 billion in unpaid debts from 2011-12, when a similar thing happened.

In addition to this, several EU governments are demanding money from Erasmus as reimbursement for 2011-12 grants paid in advance. The UK government is among them, asking a hefty €19 million.

This means two things.

One, the actual monthly student stipend for next semester is likely to be lower than the €255 originally proposed.

Two, if Erasmus must pay all its debts at once, it will have to use its 2013-14 budget to cover the deficit.

In this case, its entire 2013-14 budget will be used up by mid-2013. Thus, either the size of the 2013-14 cohort of students would have to be drastically reduced, or the monthly stipend would have to go.

Without Erasmus, students would have to find money from elsewhere if they wished to study abroad, in order to cover extra travel, living, and administration costs.

As many degrees in languages and international relations require a year abroad, this may have an effect on the popularity of these subjects, which are already suffering from domestic education cuts.

Education is very important. International education and student mobility are also very important. Today’s world is tiny, meaning that strong links between countries are even more valuable than before.

This is best achieved through long-term investment: transferring diplomacy skills, cross-cultural exchange, and nurturing understanding of other countries and their way of life.

These things cannot be taught in a classroom. They are acquired through experience: the experience that Erasmus provides.

In this regard, Erasmus is one of the EU’s most valuable assets. That the Prime Minister is willing to allow its destruction is shocking.

Yet, at the same time, it grimly confirms what is already obvious: Cameron’s focus is not on students or education. It’s on scoring points over the other members of the EU.