The European Union's Fulbright-style international exchange programme may be delayed by a looming political battle over funding.
A row between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers threatened to erupt as delegates gathered for this week's convention of European higher education institutions in Graz, Austria.
On Saturday, the convention is due to reach a consensus on the next phase of the Bologna process of convergence, which aims to increase student mobility within Europe while making its universities attractive alternatives to the US and aggressive new recruiters such as Australia.
Erasmus World, the new EU programme, due to be implemented in 2004, is a central element of the process. Now retitled Erasmus Mundus by the Council of Ministers, it was announced by education commissioner Viviane Reding in July last year. The European Parliament wants to increase its 2004-08 budget to €300 million (£215 million), up on the initial €200 million. But the Council of Ministers, representing member states, wants a much smaller allocation of euro 180 million.
Roy Perry, a British Conservative MP, who sits on the parliament's culture committee, said: "If you're going to do the job it needs to be done properly. It needs the €300 million and you can be sure that parliament will be reviewing the council's decision and will be putting it under pressure."
In a bid to meet the parliament some of the way, ministers agreed to a later review of the finances, assessing the scope for spending additional money from 2007.
The proposal now moves back to the parliament for a second reading, where MEPs can insist on their increased budget. If no agreement can be reached, the proposal will be referred to a special conciliation committee.
Ms Reding was positive about the scheme when she spoke at last week's World Education Market in Lisbon. She reiterated the plans for 90 inter-university networks offering 250 European Masters courses by 2008.
Non-EU postgraduate students would receive grants of about €21,000 a year, which Brussels considered comparable to other international programmes, such as the US Fulbright Scholarships.
There would also be grants available for European students and teachers wanting to study and work outside the EU. Progress on a pilot joint masters programme, covering 11 disciplines and drawing on 73 universities, was to be outlined at the European University Association convention this week.
A European Commission spokesman said €200 million would be acceptable.
"With less, the efficiency of such a programme would be diminished," he told The THES.