EUROPE: Drive to double EU study-abroad numbers

The European Commission has announced a drive to double the number of students undertaking cross-border education and training throughout the 27 EU member countries in the seven-year period to 2020. Officials said this would allow up to five million people to study abroad.

But the proposals have been met with some scepticism from student representatives who believe they will do little to promote mobility for less well off groups.

Under the Brussels plans there will be a funding increase of around 70% compared to the current seven-year budget, bringing the aggregate to around EUR19 billion (US$25 billion) for the 2014-20 programme.

The higher number includes nearly three million higher education and vocational students, while masters students would also benefit from a new loan guarantee scheme set up with the European Investment Bank Group, the commission said.

Existing schemes are to be ranked under the heading of Erasmus for All, which would bring together all current EU and international schemes for education, training, youth and sport, replacing seven existing programmes with one.

The European Students' Union (ESU) said it did not think that the proposed loan scheme would lead to more students studying abroad, especially not students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Allan Päll, chair of the ESU, said the union was "not convinced that the loan scheme is attractive and effective".

There was a high risk that loans would be very expensive for less well off students and there were fears that funding for grants "will eventually be replaced with funding for loan guarantees for students", he said.

Päll said there was also concern about the overall amounts set aside. Currently, student grants were not sufficient to cover the costs of living and studying abroad and most students needed to pay money out of their own pockets. This was the main obstacle for student mobility, he said.

As proposed by the commission, the Erasmus for All proposal would provide among other things grants for 2.2 million higher education students to spend part of their education and training abroad (compared to 1.5 million under current programmes) and loan guarantees for 330,000 masters students.

Some 115,000 institutions and organisations involved in education and training would get funding to set up more than 20,000 strategic partnerships to implement joint initiatives and promote exchange of experience and know-how, while 4,000 education institutions and enterprises would form 400 'knowledge alliances' and 'sector skills alliances' to boost employability, innovation and entrepreneurship.

One aim was to "strengthen the lifelong learning approach by linking support to formal and non-formal learning throughout the education and training spectrum", the commission said, and to "broaden the scope for structured partnerships both between different sectors of education and with business and other relevant actors".

Since 2007, an average of 400,000 people per year have received EU grants for study, training and volunteering abroad, the commission said. This is expected to rise to almost 800,000 over the next seven-year phase.

The Erasmus for All programme requires approval by the Council of Ministers of the 27 EU states as well as the European parliament, and the final go-ahead is not likely until late next year at the earliest.

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