BRUSSELS – Many critical points that were raised by students in relation to a new programme of the European Union for education and youth from 2014 to 2020 have not been taken into account. On Wednesday, the European Council reached an agreement that would allocate only 14.5 billion euros to this proposal called Erasmus+ out of the 960 billion euro budget of the EU. A controversial idea of a new loan guarantee facility would receive 3.5 per cent out of the budget for Erasmus+, or 450 million euros.
The programme was originally supposed to receive 17 billion euros in total. But in February, the leaders of the EU Member States demanded an unprecedented cut to the total budget of the EU that also affected programmes for education and youth*. The final budget allocations will only become clear this autumn when the Member States and the European Parliament will make a formal decision on the proposal.
Students oppose the EU loan system
The European Students’ Union (ESU) has fought fiercely against the new and experimental EU Master Degree Loan Guarantee Facility. ESU believes it is unwise to introduce such a scheme in times of economic uncertainty and that students would be reluctant to take up more debt. Instead, the money could be invested in more successful education projects.
“More could have been done to improve the portability of national student support systems in Europe, so that they would be made more accessible to postgraduate studies abroad. Instead, European policy makers want to introduce a loan scheme that can easily turn against students’ interests even though we have made them well aware of its shortfalls. The proposal increases the debt level of students that are already struggling with extremely high unemployment, risks a brain drain across regions and above all European institutions have a limited control over because it will be in the hands of financial intermediaries,” says Karina Ufert, Chairperson of ESU.
Important to resolve disagreements on 2013 budget
ESU was nevertheless happy to hear that the European Council managed to reach a political agreement on the multiannual financial framework of the EU from 2014 to 2020, where it pledges to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the financial obligations in 2013 will be honoured. This agreement might take care of a shortfall in the budget for Erasmus of 126 million euros this year.
“We do sincerely hope that the uncertainty surrounding Erasmus will be eradicated. We have been told that national agencies might not be able to stand up to their obligations because of this issue. This is unacceptable and we need an assurance this summer from the EU that Erasmus students can register for their studies knowing that they will receive the financial support they need,” says Ufert.
A Youth Guarantee is not enough
The agreement also entails that funds for education and youth may be redistributed, so that more money can be made available in the early years of the programme. The leaders of the European Council also agreed this week on special measures against youth unemployment, by making structural funds more accessible and introducing various youth employment initiatives.
“It is positive that the leaders want to address the urgent problems that young people are facing all over Europe. At the same time, serious structural reforms should be taken to tackle youth unemployment, rather than only relying on the so-called Youth Guarantee package, which is however a step in the right direction,” Ufert emphasises.
* The references used in this article are based on fixed prices for 2011. Numbers used for Erasmus+ include funds for the international dimension.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.