EU gives students abroad the finger

As the EU considers to cut the Erasmus grants, what impact will this have upon students and universities?

We all know how infamous the British are for refusing to learn foreign languages. Have you ever been to Spain and overheard a lager-gulping, loutish cockney in a restaurant yelling “CAN WE HAVE THE BILL NOW PLEASE?”

As a student of German (who also knows a little French and Dutch), I like to think that I’m not a part of that stereotype. When I go to a foreign country for a holiday I like to at least attempt a few phrases. The locals love it, and it makes me feel cultured. Win-win.

It’s no surprise then, that for years, the EU has been encouraging the learning of foreign languages in schools as well as at university, and with the eradication of GCSEs in favour of the English Baccalaureate, more and more school students will now be taking foreign languages as part of the national curriculum.

But if the EU holds language skills in such high esteem, why then are they considering to do away with much of the funding that will help students like me further their language skills, either by studying or working abroad in Europe as part of their degrees?

‘’Erasmus’’ is a scheme founded by the EU, which provides funding for undergraduate students undertaking study or work placements in countries within the EU. It currently has 33 participating countries with close to 3 million students having participated since it started in 1987.

The annual budget stands in excess of €450 million, giving individuals €250-€370 per month, a healthy sum that goes a long way in supporting students financially.

But to account for a €9 billion deficit, the EU is considering reducing the budget for the Erasmus grant. This will mean that universities will either have to reduce the numbers of places available for the scheme or reduce the grant amount. Whilst I understand that cuts must be made, I fail to see why one of the most vital funding schemes is on the chopping block.

Do they really wish there to be no incentive for students to study languages? Do they really expect students to go off gallivanting to Barcelona, Berlin or Bordeaux without any regular income whatsoever?

Despite the fact that students undertaking an Erasmus study placement will still be eligible for their usual student finance, and in many countries there will be no tuition fees, many students are nonetheless met with extortionate living expenses. I’ve been to Berlin, and I know that the use of public transport is not only a necessity, but also daylight robbery.

Charlie, currently on her Erasmus year in Germany, needed the grant to help cover the £3,000 expense of flights and to provide her with sufficient funds to socialise and make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

She commented on the possibility of eradicating the grant by saying: ‘it may make the difference for some people when they are deciding whether they should take part in the scheme or not – especially if they are going to an expensive country. This could potentially lead to only students with enough money being able to go abroad.’

Plus, in terms of healthcare, anyone with a brain will be carrying around a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This will cover you for any emergency healthcare you might need; however, it might not include everything you’d expect to get for free in the UK, for example, the oral contraceptive pill is not free in Germany, costing nearly €40 for 6 months supply.

In a medical emergency, you will most likely be required to pay an upfront fee. You will be able to claim this back on your return to the UK; however the fact remains that you’d need sufficient money at the time; so for some poorer students the grant is an absolute necessity.

There is no doubt that living abroad can be expensive. Therefore it is paramount that students get sufficient funding, particularly as for language students, the year abroad is not only an integral part of their degrees, it is also a compulsory component.

If the EU really does decide to cut funding for this, there will be little incentive for students to study languages, and we will one day find ourselves overrun with the ignorant morons who believe that everybody can understand English if it’s yelled at them loud enough.