Ref. :  000026951
Date :  2007-07-27
Language :  English
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As Erasmus turns 20 some MEPs share their memories

Erasmus - the great 15th century theologian and humanist has for the last two decades given his name to a programme that gives university students a chance to study abroad. So far 1.5 million students have taken part from 31 European countries. The most popular destinations are France and Spain. As Erasmus turns 20, we spoke to three MEPs who in earlier years took advantage of the scheme. With increased funding for 2007, we also ask whether the scheme is just for wealthier students.

One of the most striking aspects of the Erasmus experience is the people you meet. Belgian Socialist MEP Saïd El Khadraoui described the experience as "enriching" and that in 5 months in Paris in 1997 he made "friends for life". He also said that it taught him the importance of autonomy.

This sentiment was echoed by British Green MEP Alyn Smith - who was in Heidelberg in Germany in the 1990's. He said that "the studying part is important but mixing with people from other countries is just as much part of the Erasmus experience".

Another ex-Erasmus student - Italian Giusto Catania of the European United Left - said he had learned the importance of cultural exchange during his time in Amsterdam in 1995.

Erasmus hit the silver screen a few years ago with "L’auberge espagnole" which concentrated on the social and cultural aspects of the scheme.

Ok, its good fun, but does it help get a job?

To what extent Erasmus can help people with their later careers is a crucial point for those considering taking part. Alyn Smith is unequivocal on the help the programme gave him: "I can say with certainty that I would not be an MEP if I hadn’t had the Erasmus experience".

For Saïd El Khadraoui Erasmus demonstrates to prospective employers that a person "has the capacity to adopt". He called it a "supplementary experience" and therefore an advantage compared to other job seekers.

Erasmus is a success - but a success for well off students?

Despite its success Erasmus still faces a real problem of affordability. A recent survey found that over 50% of students declared financial difficulties as an obstacle to them taking part in the Erasmus scheme. It also found that a majority of Erasmus students have above average socio-economic status in their country.

The current grant for an Erasmus student is 150 Euros a month - clearly not enough to live on without another source of income - be in parents or savings. In the latest round of EU budgetary negotiations MEPs pushed for this level to be raised to €300 a month although a final compromise saw it reduced to €200. This will apply for the next six years.

Erasmus in figures:

- 1.5 million: number of students who have participated

- 1465: the year Erasmus of Rotterdam was born

- 31: countries that take part

- 26,629: amount of Erasmus students who studied in France in the last academic year.

- 3.1 billion: money allocated by the EU for Erasmus over the next six years

- 144,032: Erasmus students in 2005.

Further information:

- Erasmus explained
- Funding 25.10.06
- Focus on Erasmus 503 Service Unavailable

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