This article was originally published on Euractiv.

Grants for the Erasmus student exchange programme are not keeping pace with inflation, pricing out many poorer students – that needs to change, write Nicu Stefanuta and Juan Rayon Gonzalez.

Nicu Stefanuta is an MEP for the Green group and a member of the European Parliament’s Budget committee; Juan Rayon Gonzalez is president of the Erasmus Student Network.

Erasmus grants are too small to allow a student who does not come with money from home to study abroad. It is time to ask ourselves if everyone has access to this programme and if not how can we make it fairer.

We have the solution; we must increase the budget of the Erasmus programme and increase the amount of student grants. We politicians, together with civil society, join hands to promote this idea and put pressure on the EU institutions to propose and support these increases during the budgetary negotiations.

Why talk about Erasmus now? The next weeks and months will be decisive for the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the EU’s budget for 2024, and we should not take Erasmus for granted. In times of high inflation and a cost of living crisis, it is time to ensure that the EU’s flagship programme is fit for purpose in terms of supporting those students who need it most. It is time to enshrine quality grants in the structure of Erasmus+. 

It is regrettable that the MFF review announced on Tuesday (20 June) by Ursula von der Leyen, does not propose an increase to the Erasmus+ budget line, and this needs to be fixed. The interest payments for the Next Generation EU exceed the entire budget of Erasmus+ in 2024. But we will fight during the negotiations on the EU budget 2024 to solve this.

Erasmus+ grants have not improved significantly in the Erasmus+ programme 2021/2027. Preliminary findings of the ESNsurvey XV show that more than 50% of respondents reported that the grant was only covering 50% of their costs, and so far,  37% reported “insufficient money to cover my cost of living”. The research is ongoing and, by mid-June, it had collected more than 7,000 answers from students.

The last official data on the average grant comes from the Erasmus+ Annual report of 2020, and it was €374. In the ESNsurvey XIV, published in 2022, more than half of students reported Erasmus+ scholarships between €201 to €500 per month, short of the financial needs reported by students. Moreover, more than a quarter of the sample reports a monthly scholarship of less than €301.

This average grant has for sure increased in the last two years, but unfortunately, without measures to fight against inflation, many students have comparatively less purchasing power, something that can be seen when comparing the data with statistics from 2021, available in the previous ESNsurvey.

With renting costs skyrocketing, a majority of students need to dedicate their grants almost fully to pay for their housing. In a recent joint survey between ESN and ESU, more than half of the students reported monthly housing expenses of more than €400. 

A first analysis of the non-mobile student data of the ongoing ESNsurvey shows that financial constraints are perceived as the main barrier to participation in Erasmus+ by a majority of respondents. Around 78% of respondents expressed that these constraints constitute a barrier for them.

What can be done? The case for higher grants

We believe that, in order to tackle this situation, the priority should be to revise the Erasmus+ grant system to ensure a broad increase of the grants, adapting them to the needs of the students and to the realities of the hosting city.

For this, it is key that the current revision of the MFF ensures that enough funding is allocated to Erasmus in order to allow for grants to guarantee adequate purchasing power among students. 

Besides the direct increase for Erasmus+ funding focusing on higher grants, the Commission should also facilitate better synergies with the structural funds, such as the European Social Fund +. These synergies have already been implemented in countries like Germany, and there is potential to make them common across Europe.

What are doing to convince European and national policymakers?

MEPs, civil society and citizens have a role to play in improving the Erasmus+ programme. The Erasmus Equality campaign, which we have launched in Romania and will become a Europe-wide campaign, seeks to gather signatures from students to support an increase in grants. On top of that, we have already started to apply pressure in the budget negotiations. Last year, we secured a €120 million increase in the Erasmus+ budget for 2023.

At the same time, the Erasmus Student Network recently submitted its contribution to the consultation for the new Council Recommendation on a Learning Mobility Framework, the key policy document in the field of learning mobility, including a specific proposal focusing on a renewed grant scheme. This was also included as part of the proposals for the Mid-term evaluation of the programme done as part of the Social Inclusion and Engagement in Mobility project.