The Erasmus Dilemma
25 years of Erasmus – actually an occasion for celebrate, isn’t it? All through celebrating, students should be aware: it is not guaranteed that they will get their full grants in the ongoing academic year.
“I get 150 Euros per month from Erasmus. I am not able to finance my whole life with it, but it is an additional bonus so that I don’t need to work. And of course, I am rid of the tuition fees at the host university.” Anna is an exchange student. She has studied in Munich for two years and is now spending two semesters abroad in France. She is one of about 270.000 students, who participate in the Erasmus-program in the year 2012/2013. Established by the European Union in 1987, the Erasmus program aims to foster the collaboration of colleges and the mobility of students. Since its founding, nearly 3 Million students have benefitted from it.
A danger is looming
It seems like a dilemma: at the beginning of the current year, the Erasmus program was yet celebrated on the occasion of its 25 years jubilee of success as the most known and most favored program in the European Union but now, towards the end of the year, concerns about the viability of the program are spreading. The reason for that is a deficit in the program of 90 Million Euros, which has been caused by a general underfunded EU-budget for 2012 and by the need to square old accounts from 2011. According to the European Commission, students who spend a semester abroad in the first term of 2012/2013 won’t have problems getting their full grants. But for the second part of the current academic year, there is a high risk of either less Erasmus-accommodations or a reduction of the Erasmus-stipends.
The impacts for students
What would that mean for students? “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t get the money from Erasmus. I cannot expect my parents to give me even more money. I think, I would search for a job, but then I would have less time for studying, meeting friends in my free time or discovering the foreign country. But this is however what a semester abroad is about, isn’t it?” Anna gets worried.
This insecurity of getting the full grant is also in Kathrin Renner’s mind, Vice President and External Relations Director of AEGEE, the European Students’ Forum: “When a student decides to do a semester abroad, there will always be concerns about money. Erasmus often is insufficient to finance the complete stay abroad, but when the grant is reduced; it gets more and more difficult to take the chance for such a stay. The program may develop into an elite one, so students with a weaker financial background may not be able to spend a semester in a foreign country.”
Creating an European Identity
Despite some prejudices about Erasmus as only “getting wasted in another country”, Renner is sure that the program brings the European Union together: “Of course, having parties belongs to a semester abroad. But first of all, this brings students together because it is a social event. But Erasmus is not only about partying; students have to manage their whole lives in a foreign country. They need to face reality and don’t take a vacation. They become more independent, flexible and the most important thing: overcome cultural biases.” All this results in a European Identity and the program is definitely necessary to create it: “Erasmus is a program, which addresses European citizens directly and especially young people get involved, who will be the decision makers in future. By learning another language, students find an easier access to the European Union, where officially 27 different languages are spoken. The elite project European Union becomes a collective one and students can live and experience it with the help of Erasmus.”
Doris Pack, member of the European Parliament and chairwoman of the Committee on Culture and Education, has a similar opinion: ”It is a little bit cheeky that some people have prejudices like that. It is common that young people party a lot, but still Erasmus bears its fruits, because it brings them together with their different cultures. The program is necessary to create a European Identity.”
A small amount with huge consequences
Actually, the deficit of 90 Million Euros is a small amount relative to the total budget, but still huge consequences could result from that. It is not only the short-time consequences of less money for a semester abroad, but also a long-term rejection of the European Union by the students at the worst is possible: “The idea and the reputation of the European Union could suffer if the member states don’t provide the promised funds. And not only students but even their parents, relatives and friends would wonder if the grants are not paid out” Pack states.
The European Parliament and the European Commission support the Erasmus-program. So the responsibility for not another disappointment about the European Union is in the hands of the member states. Renner claims: “Erasmus is well known by most European citizens and it is well integrated into most European colleges. It is standard and it should remain standard.”