A SIGNIFICANT drop in the number of Britons spending some of their time studying on the Continent is causing alarm among European funding chiefs.
Provisional figures revealed this week show an 8 per cent fall between 1995/96 and 1996/97 in home students spending time in another European country.
The news has heightened concern over the yawning gap between the number of European students imported into the United Kingdom and the number exported to other European Union member states. It is a potential embarrassment to the government as it prepares to take up the European Union presidency next year.
In 1995/96 more than 21,800 European students came to Britain, supported by Erasmus mobility grants, while just over 11,700 British students took up a temporary place at a European institution. The new figures suggest that the latter group fell by around 900 the following year.
A spokeswoman for the UK Socrates/Erasmus council said: "It is a severe drop."
The figures emerged as the European Commission said that an extra Ecus 70 million (Pounds 46 million) will be pumped into the Socrates programme over the two years it has left to run. More than half the money will go to Erasmus, and about two thirds of this will be ploughed into grants for studying abroad. The commission has admitted there is "real cause for concern" over the steadily dwindling value of mobility grants.