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Better studying

The EU Erasmus program makes it easier for students to spend a semester abroad. This also benefits many cities. What if the Erasmus program were cut short or completely discontinued?

By Eric Bonse, Brussels

Illustration: © SOWATORINI Landschaft
What do Mark Rutte, Charles Michel and Xavier Bettel have in common? The Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg belong to the Erasmus generation: the group of Europeans who participated in the Erasmus student exchange program. Many young students are getting to know and appreciate the EU better in this way.

Even the most powerful EU official in Brussels, Commission Secretary-General Martin Selmayr, studied abroad with Erasmus - in London, where he studied at King's College. In view of this background, it is not surprising that the EU Commission wants once again to expand significantly its popular support program.

Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger has promised to double funds for the funding period from 2021 to 2027, from the current two to four billion euros per year. The European Parliament even wants to triple present funds. This would benefit not only the students but also the universities they attend – and the cities and regions that, thanks to Erasmus, are becoming international magnets.

Without the EU and Erasmus, studying abroad will quickly become a risky adventure

The Netherlands have proven particularly attractive in recent years. In 2016, it again took second place among the most important target countries. 21,956 exchange students from the Federal Republic of Germany were enrolled there. This corresponds to 15.2 percent of all German students studying abroad in 2016.

But what would happen if the Erasmus program were cut short or stopped altogether? This question arose for the first time when the United Kingdom submitted its application for EU exit in 2017. All of a sudden, the British became aware of the importance of the Brussels-sponsored educational exchange for their prestigious universities.

Between 1987 and 2017 Erasmus supported a total of about 4,400,000 students, many of whom studied in the British Isles. Now more and more choose a different country. Especially French and Spanish students have turned away from the former favourite goal. They fear the problems they may face after Brexit, such as with visas and tuition. Without the EU and Erasmus, studying abroad will quickly become a risky adventure.