Nearly 13,000 British students took part in the mobility scheme last year, according to the latest figures, the highest number since it was started in 1987.
However, of the 26 universities that sent more than 200 students abroad, only eight were not members of the Russell Group.
The figures may raise concerns that the scheme is “too middle-class” – echoing the findings of a House of Lords sub-committee report on European higher education, published in March, which said that students from low-income families struggled to access the scheme.
Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, which runs Erasmus in the UK, said it was vital to encourage students from different backgrounds to use the scheme, which offers bursaries for work and study placements abroad.
“Erasmus gives our next generation the chance to gain vital international skills, contacts and confidence that we need to be competitive and progress in a global economy,” he said.
Speaking at a reception in London on 17 May to mark the scheme’s 25th anniversary, Mr Davidson said that more than 2 million students across Europe – and around 200,000 UK students – had taken part in Erasmus since it was launched in 1987.
In the scheme’s first year, the UK sent out 925 students – more than any of the other 11 participating countries – but it has since been overtaken.
Now, more than 10 per cent of students graduating in Spain, 6 per cent of those in Germany and 4 per cent of those in France are Erasmus students. In the UK it is less than 2 per cent. Last year, Spain, France and Germany each sent out well over 30,000 students on placements, compared with the UK’s figure of less than 13,000.
Steve Beswick, Microsoft UK’s director of education, said that study abroad was vital in improving the personal skills of British graduates and the fortunes of UK export companies. “Diversity and appreciation of cultural differences are competitive weapons,” he said.
“When interviewing people, [interviewees] having international experience is vital.”