EU mobility grants at record high, but impact varies

The European Union’s Erasmus+ programme offered approximately 650,000 individual mobility grants for people to study, train, work or volunteer abroad in 2014, the first year of the programme, according to Tibor Navracsics, the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

The Erasmus+ programme is the EU’s new funding programme for education, training, youth and sport between 2014 and 2020 and combines seven previous programmes into one, with a budget of €14.7 billion (US$16.4 billion) – a hefty 40% rise in spending compared with the previous programming period.

However, a regional impact study, whose results were published by the European Commission, or EC, at the same time as the figures on Erasmus+, suggests that the impact of mobility is being felt in different ways in different regions of Europe.

For instance in Southern Europe students with international experience are more likely to land a job, and in Eastern Europe they are more likely to secure a managerial position, the survey found.

The Commissioner announced that in 2014 just over €2 billion was distributed for Erasmus+ programmes, with 69% of spending going on education and training, 10% on youth and 1% on sport, the EC said.

The record 650,000 mobility grants included 400,000 higher education and vocational student exchanges, and 100,000 volunteers and young people undertaking youth work abroad.

In addition, 150,000 teachers, youth trainers and other staff gained mobility grants for professional development.

The grants are intended to co-finance mobility activity. For instance, student mobility grants for study in high-cost-of-living countries such as France and the UK are €400 a month.

The programme also paved the way for the first student loans for a full masters degree abroad.

Some 11 new Joint masters degrees were set up with non-EU countries in the first year of Erasmus+, adding to the 180 joint masters degrees and joint doctorates already available under Erasmus Mundus.

The programme also supports the development of teaching and research on European integration through Jean Monnet Actions.

Navracsics said: “During the first year Erasmus+ has proved a true success. The impressive number of participants is proof that the programme is making a difference in improving young people's employment prospects, helping them acquire new skills and experiences and supporting the modernisation of Europe's education, training and youth systems.

“We will continue to build on this popularity to reach out to more people with different interests, profiles and social backgrounds.”

Improved recognition

According to an EC statement, the programme is continuing to improve the experience of its beneficiaries. This can be seen in improved recognition of studies abroad once students return to their home countries.

“More students can now be sure that the qualifications obtained abroad will be recognised in their home countries – 85% in 2014, up from 76% in 2013,” the EC said.

In addition the programme has been made more inclusive by the provision of additional financial support to 10,000 students and 50,000 young people who are less well-off or have special needs that require additional support to enable them to take part in mobility projects.

So for example, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in addition to receiving the monthly mobility grant, would receive a monthly supplement of €100.

A further €13 million has also been committed for 2016 to fund projects tackling issues like social inclusion of minorities and migrants and other disadvantaged social groups.

Navracsics said in 2014 more than 10,000 institutions, youth organisations, businesses and NGOs got involved and worked together in more than 1,800 projects.

“By bringing people from different backgrounds together Erasmus+ helps to build open tolerant societies, something that is more vital today than ever. This is my political priority. That is why I want to ensure that we keep reaching out to people with wide a range of profiles and backgrounds and use it to tackle social exclusion and radicalisation.”

Cooperation projects funded included Knowledge Alliances, involving higher education institutions and enterprises, and efforts to build education capacity in developing countries.

A new linguistic support tool made available at the end of 2014 benefited 120,000 participants in its first year, providing them with online language assessment and interactive language courses. The courses involve self-learning and opportunities for peer learning and group learning.

Lifelong learning programme

The Commission has also published figures on the final academic year – 2013-14 – of the previous Erasmus programme, which covered higher education mobility and cooperation projects under the former Lifelong Learning programme (2007-13), now part of Erasmus+.

In the final year a record number of people benefited, 272,497 students, including 60,000 trainees and 57,448 higher education staff receiving funding for studies, training, job placements and teaching or training abroad, a 2% increase on the previous year.

In 2013-14 the most popular destination countries for students were Spain (39,277), Germany (30,964) and France (29,621). The same countries sent the most students abroad, with Spain sending 37,235 students, France 36,759 and Germany 36,257.

In addition to mobility grants, the Erasmus programme (2007-13) supported cooperation projects to modernise European higher education and develop innovative education policy tools. Interest in such cooperation projects grew year-on-year, with 311 applications submitted in 2013, up from 250 in 2012. Finland submitted the highest share of all proposals (13%), followed by Belgium (12%), Spain (11%) and the UK (10%).

Belgium was also the most successful in terms of applications approved with 15 projects accepted – a 19% share of the 79 funded projects in total, the EC said.

Regional impact variations

In addition, a new Erasmus Regional Impact Study confirms that while undertaking an Erasmus student exchange significantly improves young people's confidence and job prospects, this is especially true for students coming from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The study, undertaken by CHE Consult for the EC, examined 71,388 responses and reveals that the impact of Erasmus+ will not be equally positive for everybody who takes part and different benefits are experienced in different regions.

Erasmus alumni from Southern Europe are half as likely to experience long-term unemployment compared to those who did not go abroad. Also 45% of Erasmus alumni changed their country of residence or work after graduation, while only 19% of those that were not did so. Moreover, 45% of Southern European students on international work internships received a job offer through this experience.

In Eastern Europe alumni with international experience easily get managerial positions. Mobility experience is highly valued by local employers: 70% of companies in the region have declared that they assign higher professional responsibility to alumni with international experience and that they also offer them higher salaries.

“In this region five to 10 years after graduation, 70% of previously mobile alumni hold a managerial position compared to only 40% of those who did not go abroad during their studies”, says Uwe Brandenburg, managing partner of CHE Consult and Erasmus Impact Study project leader.

Brandenburg told University World News that the study shows that enjoying the Erasmus experience at a younger age provides a larger gain to students’ personality development than when older. Students under 23 benefit more from mobility.

However, the study noted that the motivations for studying abroad varied from region to region. While students from the Southern region benefited greatly in terms of improved chances of gaining employment, they also had the highest motivation of all regions to go abroad to improve employability abroad.

In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, students primarily choose to go abroad to improve their foreign language skills as well as to broaden their career prospects.

Brandenburg said the findings overall showed that it was important to recognise that mobility does help but averages can be misleading: not everybody benefits from mobility to the same degree and it is important to measure outcomes.

This is particularly the case in Western and Northern Europe, where students are more likely to have been exposed to travel abroad earlier in their lives through school exchanges and other trips.

Universities tend to assume that internationalisation has an impact, but they need to find ways to measure the effectiveness of their various internationalisation strategies and partnerships and the type of international experience they offer, he said.