Student mobility is the most prominent and popular feature of the Erasmus+ programme, with around 186,0001 students undertaking a mobility period abroad each year. The Erasmus+ scholarships are meant to cover the extra costs students have while on mobility and play an important role in providing opportunities for studying abroad to a wide range of Higher Education students. However, the percentage of students who embark on this journey is still quite low, and the fact that grants are not large enough remains a key obstacle to wider participation. With only modest changes made to the way scholarships are calculated and given the rising costs of living across Europe, one needs to ask: could there be a better way?
A closer look into the current system of Erasmus+ grants
There are currently 3 country groups that, according to the Erasmus+ programme guide, were defined in line with their cost of living – higher living costs, medium living costs or lower living costs. For each cost of living range, the European Commission determines a minimum and maximum amount to be used. It is then the responsibility of each country’s Erasmus+ National Agency to set the actual grant amounts within that range for mobilities to countries with similar, higher or lower costs of living2.
There isn’t much information available on how these groups of countries are established, which results in a lack of transparency that is detrimental to the programme. However, even if these countries are organised in groups according to concrete and evidence-based indicators of their costs of living, the fact that National Agencies set the final amount can lead to considerable inequalities for students, even if they come from the same group of countries (for example, if one country defines the grant as the highest amount possible, and another as the lowest one within the range). The fact that the differences between groups of countries can be as small as 56€ while the range between minimum and maximum within a given group can be as high as 326€ reinforces the impression that the system lacks consistency and is potentially arbitrary.
Moreover, when it comes to the amount that students eventually receive, research has repeatedly shown that current grants are not enough to cover the extra costs of mobility and that the excessive financial burden is the single most important reason why students don’t enrol in international student mobility3. If we truly aim to achieve the ambitious goals of 20% of graduates having an international experience abroad – or 50% of students going abroad in the context of the European University Alliances – substantive changes are needed.
How can we improve this situation? Thinking of new ways to calculate the Erasmus+ grant
The Erasmus for All project has been researching how the Erasmus+ grant could be considerably improved, with the aim of finding ways to remove a key deterrent to studying abroad, and, consequently, enable more students to embark in such experience. The following proposals are the results of the intense and concerted efforts of a group of experts in fields that range from Public Policy and Economics to Sociology and Statistics.
1. Updating the groups of countries
The first proposal under consideration is an evolution of the current grant calculation method. It focus on tweaking the Erasmus+ grant system to try to mitigate some of its shortcomings, namely the incoherence in the groups of countries and the lack of transparency. This scenario suggests an update in the current groups of countries based on the EUROSTAT housing price index. This cost usually amounts to the single biggest expense mobile students face. In order to enable better granularity, this proposal also expands the group of countries from 3 to 4:
|Group of countries 1 – Highest cost of living||Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland|
|Group of countries 2 – Medium high cost of living||Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden|
|Group of countries 3 – Medium low cost of living||Czechia, Cyprus, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain|
|Group of countries 4 – Lower cost of living||Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey|
2. A European grant with a living cost top-up
While clustering countries by costs has some advantages (i.e. familiarity and continuity for those used to manage mobilities with the current system) the fact remains that living costs can vary significantly within some countries. For example, accommodation costs, which are usually the main expense for mobile students as we have seen above, can increase twofold from one city to another in the same country.
This key realisation brings us to the second scenario being investigated in Erasmus for All: to combine a base European grant that will be the same for all mobile students across Europe with a top-up in case the living cost of the host city/region is higher than the home city/region. This proposal could be much more equitable and inclusive in terms of supporting the actual extra costs exchange students face, making mobility a realistic prospect for all.
In order to ensure that the carbon footprint of international mobility is decreased as much as possible, and to avoid that transport costs to and from their destination have to be covered by the monthly grant, exchange students should also receive a green return travel ticket per semester abroad.
Upgrading the Erasmus grant in this manner would also provide a welcome opportunity to enable simpler administration, reporting and auditing. This would benefit universities and students alike because a simplified administration would make it easier to ensure all grants are paid in a timely manner (before the start of the mobility experience).
3. Assessing city-based costs
The third proposal being considered by the consortium focuses almost entirely on the aspect of calculating the living cost differences and is underpinned by some of the same elements noted above: the capital city of a country can be much more expensive than a smaller university city in the same country; therefore, two students going from the same home country to the same destination country can have completely different experiences if they chose different cities.
The proposal is that Higher Education Institutions define a base grant and that this amount is then multiplied by the increase or decrease in costs, depending on the difference between origin city and destination city. For the sake of this article, we will use a reference value of 400 euros per month as the base grant and NUMBEO indexes as an example.
- A student going from Porto (Portugal) to Lodz (Poland) (NUMBEO identifies living costs in Lodz are 29.54% lower) would receive 400 * (1-0.2954) = 281.84 EUR per month
- A student going from Porto (Portugal) to Berlin (Germany) (NUMBEO identifies living costs in Berlin are 52.02% higher) would receive 400 * (1+0.5202) = 608,08 EUR per month
Having everyone in mind
These proposals and the work of the Erasmus for All consortium aim to improve the current system towards a solution that is more transparent while also being fairer and increasing the sense of European identity that has been associated with Erasmus since its creation. Additionally, we will keep in mind the needs and workload of countless International Offices across Europe to make sure that the Erasmus for All proposals also mean an easier and more efficient implementation. And, of course, the most important characteristic of a new grant system is that it must better address the needs of students, paving the way for a much wider and more inclusive participation in international mobility.
In the coming months, the consortium will explore these options by gathering the views and expertise of stakeholders relevant in the Higher Education area, while also preparing the ground for the Erasmus4All scenarios to be tested in the following stage of the project.
About the project
The Erasmus for All project is composed of the following organisations: University of Porto (Portugal), coordinator, Sapienza University of Rome (Italy), University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (France), University of Pécs (Hungary), Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), the European University Foundation (Luxembourg), France Universités (France) and the European Students’ Union (Belgium).
More information about the project and its activities can be found at https://www.up.pt/erasmus-for-all/
- Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (2022) Erasmus+ Annual report 2021 (Online). Retrieved at https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/ff16650b-7b6e-11ed-9887-01aa75ed71a1
- 2023 Erasmus+ Programme Guide, p. 70 “The amounts defined by National Agencies will be set within the following minimum and maximum ranges:
- Medium range EU grant: a medium range, between 292 and 606 EUR per month, will apply to mobility activities towards a country of similar living costs: a) from Group 1 to Group 1, b) from Group 2 to Group 2 and c) from Group 3 to Group 3.
- Higher range EU grant: corresponds to the medium range applied by the National Agency plus at least 50 EUR and between 348 and 674 EUR per month. It applies to mobility activities towards a country of higher living costs: a) from Group 2 to Group 1 countries and b) from Group 3 to Group 1 and 2 countries.
- Lower range EU grant: corresponds to the medium range applied by the National Agency minus at least 50 EUR and between 225 and 550 EUR per month. It applies to mobility activities towards a country of lower living costs: a) Group 1 to Group 2 and 3 countries and b) from Group 2 to Group 3.”
- Hovhannisyan, G., Napier, R., Berger, S., Darmanin, M., De Winter, N., Grodecki, J., Skadborg, M., Leban, U., Paluoja, M., Golović, R., Romero Rodríguez, C., Mariaud, H., (2020) Bologna with Student Eyes 2020 (Online). European Students’ Union. Retrieved at https://www.esu-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BWSE2020-Publication_WEB2.pdf