Europe is to offer more financial and language support to revive interest in mobility scheme. Ian Mundell reports
Declining involvement in the Erasmus student mobility programme is worrying the European Commission.
The fall in participation is particularly marked in the case of the UK, but Ján Figel`, the European Union Education Commissioner, said there were less dramatic declines in the numbers of Irish, Icelandic, Italian and Romanian students participating in the programme. Last month, Mr Figel` told a workshop in Brussels on the future of Erasmus that the Commission was looking at the situation and hoping to address some of the causes.
The average student grant will increase from €140 (£83) to €200 a month, and Mr Figel` said that he wanted to give more support for intensive language courses before students go abroad, and for there to be additional language teaching during the placement.
British students at the workshop, organised by the UK Erasmus Student Committee, appealed for Europe not to give up on the UK as a participant in the programme, despite declining British involvement.
"Although traditionally a Eurosceptic country, the UK is not a hopeless case," Jonathan Agar, president of the committee, said. He argued that it was in the interests of the EU for the UK decline to be addressed, as universities get Erasmus money only for outgoing students, and incoming students pay no fees.
"As outgoing rates for the UK fall, it becomes less financially viable for incoming students to be accepted at British universities. A problem for one member state is a problem for all member states."
UK participation in Erasmus, which was already lower than those of Germany and France, fell from 7,973 students in 2002-03 to 7,214 students in 2004-05.
Promoting and supporting Erasmus is often seen as a low priority in the UK compared with attracting fee-paying foreign students.
While financial concerns and poor language skills are considered significant factors in falling UK demand for Erasmus places, the workshop concluded that the main problem was still a lack of awareness about the scheme.
"The antipathy of UK students is not as ingrained as we feared, but they need information to make informed decisions about whether or not they want to study abroad," said Helen Mobey, a member of the UK committee.
Mr Agar appealed for EU and UK support for the work his committee members were doing on initiatives such as establishing Erasmus societies in universities and giving talks in schools. "They need to place confidence in the students themselves to promote Erasmus to their peers," he said.
The workshop also recommended setting up a database to enable Erasmus students to exchange accommodation during their periods abroad.