It was a tight call but the money came through in the end and students signed up for the European Union’s (EU) Erasmus student exchange programme will get funding after all next year.
The Erasmus cash had been caught up in a budget deadlock lasting months and the issue was only resolved this week, when the European Parliament rubber-stamped a deal agreed a few days earlier by EU ministers.
Among other things the agreed deal on the EU budget for next year released a €90 million (US$118 million) special corrective sum for Erasmus. At one point it had seemed likely that Erasmus would be forced to cut students’ grants from early in 2013.
"The agreement means that the commission can now transfer necessary funds to the national agencies which are responsible for running Erasmus in the member states. The agencies will then release funds to beneficiaries of the programme, including the home universities and colleges which pay the monthly grants to students," said the European Commission.
But will it last?
For some months certainly, but the solution is a stopgap, and a replay of the crisis in a year’s time cannot be ruled out. The 2013 budget deal agreed by the joint financing authorities – the EU council of government ministers and the European Parliament – is €65 billion less than the sum the European Commission had sought.
“The commission fears that the EU will face another budget shortfall next autumn," said Dennis Abbott, the education spokesperson.
The problem at root is the pressure on domestic budgets now being felt across Europe, which has made many of the 27 EU member states hostile to any increase in EU spending.
The UK, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden led the campaign against any increase this year and only limited rises in the years up to 2020. Efforts to agree on the multi-annual deal failed last month and will be resumed in 2013.
The agreed budget for next year includes a 6.4% increase in EU research and development funding as well as funds to keep the Lifelong Learning Programme running.
EU Commissioner for Education Androulla Vassiliou said the deal was "a big boost for Erasmus students" and was "a positive signal that Europe is committed to investing in education and skills".
But this proposition may well be tested when the next round of spending comes up for agreement next autumn.
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