The European Students’ Union (ESU) is deeply disappointed that billions of euros might be slashed from the original budget proposal for education and youth in the EU’s multiannual financial framework from 2014 to 2020 because of the austerity demand set by the European Council in February.
“We hope that the European Parliament, which pledged last autumn to save the investments in education and youth, will demonstrate its political capacity to renegotiate the bill for the Erasmus for all programme.”
“Whereas major budget headings such as agriculture remain barely untouched, the one invested in this new education and youth programme takes a hit even though it only represents around 1.4 per cent of the total budget for the EU up to 2020,” says Karina Ufert, ESU’s Chairperson.
A fifteen per cent cut foreseen
Reacting to the European Council’s decision, the European Commission has proposed a linear cut of fifteen per cent to the budget for the new Erasmus for all programme. Higher and vocational education would alone suffer a loss of 150 to 200 million euros a year when compared to the original budget proposal from 2011.
Nevertheless, the European Commission consistently argues for introducing a student loan guarantee scheme that would be allocated 111 million euros a year. Erasmus for All would in total receive 13 billion euros from 2014 to 2020 instead of 15.2 billion like had been proposed originally, assuming fixed prices for 2011.
Loan scheme sacred for Commission
“We strongly oppose the idea of linear cuts if the final deal includes less money for Erasmus for all. We should instead use that capital to support those programmes that have already proved their value and efficiency, such as grants for learning mobility.”
“We are surprised to see that the Commission intends to keep the controversial loan scheme in, while its feasibility and technical details are being questioned. In times of a crisis, young people need more support and investments from the EU’s side,” says Karina Ufert, Chairperson of ESU.
Student grants sacrificed
The Erasmus exchange programme celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. It has supported around three million students to study or seek experience in another EU country since it was launched. The European Commission had hoped that five million people might enjoy financial support from the integrated programme until 2020 but instead they might only be four million if the budget cuts will go through.
Despite that, the European Commission has maintained its plan to introduce the EU student loan scheme offered by private banks to students interested in completing a full masters’ degree in another EU country. No one knows however how many students would engage in such financial obligations in times of unprecedented youth unemployment, how it would affect their completion rate and whether it would have a negative impact on the regional distribution of students in Europe.
Student action needed
ESU believes it would be much wiser to strengthen the grant system. Such an approach would provide more opportunities for students in Europe to get invaluable experience of studying abroad, improving foreign language abilities and soft skills, as well as enhancing their cultural awareness.
“We have been discussing the future of the EU’s education, youth and culture programme for years but now it is time to take a final decision. Students will not accept cuts to grants. Therefore, we call for all students in Europe to put pressure on national and European authorities and make them understand that grants have to be prioritised over loans. Instead of spending almost one billion euros into an affair with private banks, we can use the money to protect the pillars of the grant system,” says Ufert.
ESU will soon issue a statement directed at the European Parliament calling for investments in youth and education to be prioritised in the upcoming negotiations on the multiannual financial framework.