30.04.2020
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#Erasmus500: Towards a truly European grant

Today, the European Students’ Union, the European University Foundation and the Erasmus Student Network are launching a proposal for a baseline mobility grant of 500€/month from 2021 onwards. Our declaration builds upon a DAAD proposal from 2019 and is aimed at addressing key issues such as:

  • Inclusiveness. Ensure that working students can afford to go on Erasmus, rather than being structurally excluded from it.
  • Simplicity. A European grant for the students of Europe – simple, fair and transparent.
  • Strong support. A much higher grant than what is currently the case to make Erasmus a realistic prospect for all.

The #Erasmus500 Declaration

In the last few months, we have witnessed an unprecedented disruption of our student exchange programmes1. And yet, universities are safe in the knowledge that such challenges will be vanquished in the months ahead, while present times afford us the opportunity to reflect how future cooperation can be planned and enhanced.

The Erasmus programme provides an invaluable framework through which our universities create joint educational initiatives, promote innovation in teaching and learning and carry out peer-learning activities. The programme is a harbinger of the European Higher Education Area and of the European Education Area and has been expanded to support the European Universities Alliances. These three initiatives are bound to have a transformative impact on European Higher Education. But the beating heart of Erasmus has always been – and it will always be – the academic exchange opportunities it affords to millions of students. Student mobility cements not only inter-university cooperation, but also the European project as a whole2.

If Erasmus is a central catalyst to bring about European citizens who are open-minded, civically engaged and resilient to populism3, it is essential that the next programme involves a greater number of participants and is more inclusive than is currently the case. For many years, financial obstacles have been proven to be the single biggest deterrent to participation in mobility programmes4. That is why we call for a reformulation of the Erasmus grants into a simpler scheme comprising a universal baseline of 500€/month, for the following reasons:

  • Approximately half of all European students work while they study5 and those who rely on that income to meet their living expenses find themselves structurally excluded from participating in Erasmus, as the financial support they would receive is too low. A grant of 500€/month would offer a realistic possibility to compensate for the loss of such income, allowing a much larger number of students to participate in the programme.
  • Erasmus is the quintessential European experience but its resource allocation strategies are everything but. Grant levels are currently scattered across 18 categories that are often applied inconsistently between countries6. A simpler grant system would allow to better promote the programme to future participants and enhance  transparency for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds7.
  • In 2018, the average Erasmus grant was 336€/month8, which is manifestly insufficient to cover even accommodation costs in many European cities9. According to research involving 24,000 students, 70% of respondents indicated that the Erasmus grant covers half or less of their total expenses10. A 500€/month grant would provide all Erasmus students a far more reasonable choice of mobility destinations that they can afford.
  • In the current system, a significant amount of grants cannot be allocated every year. By setting a minimum grant with the option of top-ups, it could be possible to reallocate these remaining funds and provide the necessary support to those who need it.

The radical simplicity of this proposal is aligned with the European Pillar of Social Rights11 and builds on successful experiments carried out by the DAAD in 2018 and 2019. By streamlining the management of the grants, we can reduce their administrative burden12 and cost, allocating more of the programme’s budget directly to the beneficiaries: the students.  According to our calculations, a universal baseline of 500€/month is perfectly within reach of the forthcoming EU multiannual financial framework.

Making Erasmus simpler and more inclusive can also lead to reducing the carbon footprint of our exchange and cooperation activities if Erasmus students would be able to access low cost week-long train (and/or bus/ferry) tickets to reach (and return from) their host cities and universities13. This would ensure that their academic exchange is also a journey of discovery through the history and culture of Europe.

We call upon the European Institutions and Member States to consider and adopt these proposals.

  1.  Gabriels, W., Benke-Aberg, R. (2020) Student Exchanges in Times of Crisis – Research report on the impact of COVID-19 on student exchanges in Europe [Online]. Erasmus Student Network AISBL. Retrieved at https://esn.org/covidimpact-report

  2. European Commission (2018) Mid-term evaluation of the Erasmus+ programme (2014-2020) [Online].Retrieved at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52018DC0050&from=FR
  3. Banet, R., Pinto, J., Japiashvili, N., Rousou, K., Katava, T. K. (2019) ESNsurvey 2019 – Active citizenship and student exchange in light of the European elections [Online]. Erasmus Student Network AISBL.etrieved at https://esn.org/ESNsurvey
  4. Sundberg, C., Koppel, K., Schwitters, H., Patricolo, C., Gajek, A., Susnjar, A., Prihoda, F., Hovhannisyan, G. (2018) Bologna with Student Eyes 2018 [Online].European Students’ Union. Retrieved at http://esu-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/BWSE-2018_web_Pages.pdf
  5. Hauschildt, K., Vögtle, E. M., Gwosć, C. (2018)  Social and Economic Conditions of Student life in Europe, EUROSTUDENT VI 2016–2018 I Synopsis of Indicators [Online]. EUROSTUDENT.  Retrieved at https://www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/EUROSTUDENT_VI_Synopsis_of_Indicators.pdf
  6.  Grants vary per type of mobility and according to a table where countries are grouped in three cost categories. However, such clusters hide enormous differences among countries (e.g. Group 2, which accounts for nearly 70% of all outgoing students, includes countries with economic characteristics as diverse as the Netherlands and Greece) and their existence has proven ineffective to ensure a rational resource allocation; e.g. German students on the Erasmus programme in Portugal have a higher Erasmus grant than Portuguese students on the Erasmus programme in Germany. The fact that top-ups meant for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is also applied inconsistently compounds complexity and makes it nearly impossible to ensure equal treatment of students.
  7. Vossensteyn, J. J. H. (2005) Perceptions of student price-responsiveness: A behavioural economics exploration of the relationships between socio-economic status, perceptions of financial incentives and student choice. Enschede: Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS).
  8.  European Commission (2020) Erasmus+ Programme – Annual Report 2018,  Infographic package [Online].Retrieved at https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about/statistics_en
  9. Hauschildt, K., Vögtle, E. M., Gwosć, C. (2018) Social and Economic Conditions of Student life in Europe, EUROSTUDENT VI 2016–2018 I Synopsis of Indicators [Online]. EUROSTUDENT. Retrieved at https://www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/EUROSTUDENT_VI_Synopsis_of_Indicators.pdf
  10. Josek, M. (ed.), Fernández, J., Perez-Encinas, A., Zimonjić, B., De Vocht, L. and Falisse, M. (2017)The International Friendliness of Universities. Research Report of the ESNsurvey 2016 [Online]. Erasmus Student Network AISBL. Retrieved at https://esn.org/esnsurvey/2016
  11. In particular principles 6, 14 and 20, found at https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/european-pillar-social-rights/european-pillar-social-rights-20-principles_en (2017)
  12. As per the DAAD experiment and original proposal, semesters (or trimesters) would be treated on a unit cost basis, thus simplifying payment, reporting and auditing of SMS mobilities
  13. Exceptions to this rule would obviously continue to apply as necessary, notably as far as mobilities to/from outermost countries and regions are concerned and students with special needs.

Find out more on erasmus500.eu.

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