On 23 October, the European Commission asked the Council and the European Parliament to urgently bridge a €9 billion shortfall in the 2012 EU budget; without this cash injection, several of its funding programmes, including the flagship Erasmus student exchange scheme, will be at risk.
The Commission's amending budget proposal highlights a €180 million deficit in the Lifelong Learning Programme budget, with €90 million needed to meet commitments to Erasmus students,,, as well as a shortfall of €102 million for researchers supported by the Marie Curie Actions.
The Erasmus programme enables students in higher education to spend between 3 and 12 months in another European country - either for studies or for a placement in a company or other organisation. Any student enrolled in a participating higher education institution in one of the 33 Erasmus countries can benefit (EU Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). Erasmus is a part of the EU's Lifelong Learning programme and accounts for more than 40% of its budget. The Lifelong Learning programme also covers the Leonardo da Vinci programme (vocational education and training, at least 25% of the budget), the Comenius programme (school education, at least 13% of the budget) and the Grundtvig programme (adult education, at least 4% of the budget).
What is the origin of the current funding problem for Erasmus?
The European Commission's proposal for the overall EU budget for 2012 amounted to €132.7 billion. However, the final budget, agreed by Member States and the European Parliament, was €129.1 billion. The 2012 budget also had to cover some €5 billion in unpaid bills held over from the previous 2011 EU budget, which was also underfunded. The Commission, the Council and Parliament agreed to take stock of budget implementation in the course of 2012 to see if additional funding would be necessary. The three institutions have been in regular contact regarding funding shortfalls affecting numerous programmes, however they have not reached an agreement. The 'amending' budget proposed on 23 October aims to bridge the deficits.
Will Erasmus run out of money before the end of 2012?
No. The European Commission has transferred 70% of Erasmus funding for the 2012-2013 academic year to national agencies in the participating countries, which distribute the money to universities and students. So during the current semester, up to the end of the year, there should be no problem in paying Erasmus grants to students who are going abroad for a study period or job placement.
Have students who went abroad between January and September 2012 received their grants?
Yes, if they have completed their exchange and submitted reports to their university, showing they completed their study period or placement. In this case, they will have received 100% of their grants. These grants are not affected by the current budget squeeze since national agencies, and as a consequence universities and vocational institutes, already received the necessary funding for the 2011-2012 academic year.
Will Erasmus students who go abroad between October 2012 and February 2013 receive a lower grant than they expected?
Students who go abroad in the first semester of the 2012-2013 academic year should not have a problem. However, if the shortfall in the 2012 EU budget is not resolved, funds from the 2013 budget will have to be used to cover the gap. Faced with the prospect of a continuing shortage of funds, universities and colleges are likely either to reduce the number of places they make available for the second semester of the 2012-2013 year, or to reduce the level of grants - which is likely to mean that students from more disadvantaged backgrounds will not able to take part in the scheme. If the full funding is made available, the Commission envisages that around 270 000 students will benefit from the Erasmus programme in 2012-2013.
How much has the Commission paid to national agencies so far? What is the shortfall?
The Commission has already transferred around 99% of the 2012 budget for the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP), which covers Erasmus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Comenius and Grundtvig. In total, it has transferred €925 million to national agencies in the participating countries and to the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) which runs part of the LLP. Around 45% of this sum is earmarked for Erasmus grants. The deficit in the 2012 budget means that the Commission has not been able to reimburse payment claims from national agencies for LLP grants totalling some €160 million.
The claims have been filed by the following national agencies: Austria €6.3 million, Belgium (French-speaking community) €3 million, Belgium (Dutch-speaking community) €4.7 million, Czech Republic €7.2 million, Estonia €2.8 million, Germany (Leonardo and Grundtvig) €14.5 million, Germany (Erasmus) €11.3 million, Germany (Comenius) €5.9 million, Ireland (Erasmus) €1.3 million, Ireland (Leonardo, Comenius and Grundtvig) €0.9 million, Italy €23.7 million, Latvia €3.7 million, Lithuania €4.3 million, Poland €29.5 million, Romania €12.9 million, Slovakia €5 million, Slovenia €2.7 million and UK (Erasmus and Comenius) €19.2 million.
The Commission also expects to receive further payment requests totalling around €60 million before the end of the year. The national agencies expected to present a payment request are Belgium (German-speaking community), Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. The Commission will not be able to meet these payment demands either unless the EU budget receives an injection of funds, or only in 2013 when the new budget is available. Non-EU countries participating in Erasmus and its sister programmes pay to be part of the scheme.
What is the Commission doing to solve the problem?
The deficits concern practically all headings of the EU budget. The Commission is doing what it can to manage the situation, including proposing the transfer of any funds which will not be used elsewhere. This so-called 'Global Transfer proposal' has been proposed by the Commission and is now under discussion by Parliament and Council. This year, however, the sources which can be transferred amount to less than €500 million in total for all areas, which is not enough. That is why the Commission has asked the budgetary authority (European Parliament and Member States) to urgently increase their payments into the 2012 budget.
What will happen if Member States fail to make up the deficit?
The implementation of the Lifelong Learning Programme will be put at risk if Member States and the European Parliament do not agree on additional payments into the budget. It is expected that the first areas to be hit will be cooperation projects involving schools, adults and vocational training, while it will not be possible to pay Erasmus students and Leonardo Da Vinci apprentices the level of grants they expected. If the shortage of funding continues it could in some cases also affect the salaries of staff in the national agencies. The situation will initially improve in 2013 when funding from the new yearly budget is available. The Commission has proposed €1.09 billion in payments to support the Lifelong Learning Programme next year, of which roughly €490 million would be spent on Erasmus grants for students and staff on exchanges. But, if the Member States fail to make up the shortfall from 2012 (at least €180 million), the 2013 budget will be partially used to cover this negative balance and it is likely that it will have been totally used by mid-2013 - so even bigger problems are to be expected after that.
What part of EU budget goes to the Lifelong Learning programme?
The total EU budget 2007-2013 was €975 billion in current prices. The Lifelong Learning programme is €7 billion which represents 0.71%. The current shortfall for the LLP is about €180 million. The total proposed EU budget 2014-2020 is in current prices €1.156 trillion. The budget proposed for the future Erasmus for All programme is €19 billion, which represents 1.64% of this total.
How much does the EU spend on the Erasmus programme and how is it distributed?
In the current budgetary period (2007-13) the EU has allocated €3.1 billion for the Erasmus programme. In 2012 the allocation is €480 million and the estimate for 2013 is €490 million (see table below). This represents around 0.35% of the EU budget. During the 2012-2013 academic year, the number of Erasmus students since the launch of the scheme 25 years ago will reach 3 million. The EU provides annual grants to national agencies in the 33 participating countries. National agencies are responsible for organising calls for proposals and for signing grant agreements with universities, schools, colleges and other educational institutions in their country. Students apply for an Erasmus grants through their home university which is responsible for paying them the agreed grant.
The overall Erasmus budget for student and staff mobility is allocated to different countries on the basis of the following factors:
-Population: number of students, graduates and teachers in higher education (level 5-6 of the International standard classification of education, ISCED). Data is provided by Eurostat.
-Cost of living and distance between capital cities: used as corrective factors, applied to the population factor.
-Past performance indicator: calculated on the basis of the number of outbound staff and students in the past (using the latest available data).
Nearly 90% of the Erasmus budget is invested in student and staff mobility. Erasmus also supports cooperation projects and networks which account for around 4% of the budget. These are managed centrally by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) in Brussels. The remaining 6% of the Erasmus budget covers the operating costs of the agencies (average of 4.4%) and other actions including studies, conferences, university-business cooperation, Bologna secretariat, as well as preparatory work for the new university multidimensional ranking system.
For more information
Erasmus hits new record with 8.5% increase in student exchanges (IP/12/454)
Erasmus facts and figures [brochure]