The budget for Erasmus+ was recently increased to 2.5 billion euros for 2017, representing 13% more funding compared to the previous year. However, given the high demand and the low success rates in some Erasmus+ actions, this is not only welcome, but necessary.
A clear example is the collaboration projects under Key Action 2 (KA2), especially Knowledge Alliances which only had a 4% success rate in 2014. In fact, in the findings of EUA's membership consultation on Erasmus+, 63% of the higher education institutions surveyed stated that it is not worth applying for Knowledge Alliances given the time and resource intensive application procedure. In general, such preparation usually lasts several months and involves staff members at several institutions. An unsuccessful proposal is not only frustrating for the institution, but also represents inefficiently spent taxpayers’ money, as most European higher education institutions are publicly funded.
Furthermore, the issue at stake is not only about the need for more grants, but also about better funding rules and cost coverage. Whereas KA2 actions no longer require formal co-financing (in the past, the grant would usually cover 75% of the total costs), low ceilings for staff and other costs often result in an even higher contribution from the institution. This is likely to impact participation as some institutions may not be able to afford participation in KA2. In addition, institutions from economically stronger countries may consider these types of collaborations as their second or third choice given other more attractive external funding sources.
While a relatively large number of student mobility grants is provided under KA1, here the problem is also low cost coverage. In particular, it is difficult for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate and their choice of destination may be influenced given the different levels of living costs. Erasmus+ provides some monthly top-ups, yet survey respondents pointed out that in many cases these hardly make a difference. Additional support from the national level is also often available, but not in all member states, which further highlights economic differences across Europe.
Under KA1 International Credit Mobility (ICM), demand is much higher than the number of grants offered for some regions covered, whereas in others, not all grants are awarded. The difference in the number of mobility grants across the partnership regions is due to the fact that ICM funding is provided by different external action instruments. However, there should be a means in place to extend and further develop these mobility exchanges, especially given Europe’s long-term strategic interest.
But the main reason for more investment should not be demand, rather the incontestable positive impact of Erasmus+. In several reports, the European Commission and independent researchers have documented its clear benefits for mobile individuals and collaborating institutions, as well as for the further development of European integration. Often emphasised is the role of education in promoting citizenship and common values, and in contributing to social inclusion and greater cohesion in the Union. Recent threats to the latter - growing radicalism, terrorist attacks, the dire situation of refugees and Brexit, to name a few - are reflected in the 2015 Paris Declaration, the 2015 Yerevan Communique and other policy documents relevant to higher education.
European higher education is a success story with an international reputation, also thanks to Erasmus+, its predecessor programmes and the international exchanges that they facilitated. There is hardly a better alternative than investment of European funding into education and research, given the state of the Union and international developments.