Student numbers on Europe's most celebrated exchange programme are likely to double after the European Commission announced a 71 per cent increase in education funding in its long-term budget, which will rise in 2014 to an annual average of €2.17 billion (£1.89 billion) from the present €1.25 billion a year.
However, Erasmus, which receives about €415 million a year, may enjoy a far greater percentage funding increase, the EU has indicated.
"We would certainly like to nearly double the number of students receiving grants," said Dennis Abbott, spokesman for the European Commission's education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. "I would not be surprised if the Erasmus funding was doubled under the new programme."
He also said that the Erasmus Mundus scheme, which allows students at universities in non-EU countries to study in Europe, is to get a substantial increase in its €102 million annual funding.
About 213,000 students took part in the Erasmus scheme in 2009-10 and 400,000 in total received an academic mobility grant, latest figures show.
More countries could also join Erasmus under proposals by Poland, which took over the presidency of the EU in July.
Barbara Kudrycka, Poland's minister of science and higher education, has called for Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine to be included in the programme, as well as Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Allan Pall, chairman of the European Students Union, welcomed the expansion plans and urged ministers to consider including "Arab Spring" states, such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, in the programme. He said such exchange "fosters internationalisation of the universities there".
More than 4,000 higher education institutions from 31 countries participate in the Erasmus scheme, which has been used by 2.2 million students since it began in 1987.
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