The second phase of Europe's giant Socrates programme was launched in the United Kingdom this week with the message that the country must do more to promote study on the Continent.
Despite efforts to give Socrates and its higher education exchange component, Erasmus, a higher profile, the number of UK Erasmus students crossing the Channel has continued to decline, while the number coming here from Europe has grown.
The seven-year Socrates II programme, covering university, college, school, adult education and lifelong learning, has a E1.85 billion budget (Pounds 1.13 billion) - 30 per cent more than the first phase. The UK will get Pounds 140 million.
Just over half has been allocated to Erasmus. This is less than in the first phase because of the introduction of programmes for lifelong learning, adult education and open and distance learning. But there is still a real increase in Erasmus project cash.
At a UK launch meeting in Birmingham on Monday, higher education minister Baroness Blackstone said next year's European Year of Languages was an opportunity to impress on students the benefits of studying in Europe. She said: "People in the UK need to realise that increasingly many areas in the labour market operate on a European scale."
Poor language skills are the main barrier for UK students taking up exchange opportunities, she said. In 1998-99 numbers fell to a five-year low of 9,994, compared with 11,988 in 1994-95. Meanwhile, the number of Erasmus students coming to the UK has grown from 18,315 in 1994-95 to 20,769 in 1997-98.
But Viviane Reding, the new European commissioner for education and culture, said member states should consider topping up Erasmus grants. "They are not enough, unless students want to live under a bridge," she said.
Tim Boswell, Conservative further and higher education spokesman, said many would-be Erasmus students were deterred by financial hardship.
John Reilly, director of the UK Socrates/Erasmus Council, said British universities and industry were not doing enough to get the culture change needed to recruit more UK Erasmus students.