Students joining the Erasmus+ exchange program are missing out on meaningful engagement with local communities, a report from an association representing students in Europe has warned.
The 2021-2027 Erasmus Implementation report from the Erasmus Student Network indicated that a “clear lack” of transformative measures for democratic participation and sustainability priorities is hindering the full potential of the European Union’s flagship exchange program.
It adds that with only 10% of students engaging in volunteering activities during their Erasmus+ mobilities, the lack of local community engagement “continues to be one of the main issues with the program”.
“Accommodation-related challenges have become more acute in the last two years”
It could be “tackled with better structural support to student and alumni organisations on the ground, better recognition of volunteering opportunities and an enhancement of the tools used to track the learning process of students”, it continued.
The report, seeking to aid members of the European parliament with key observations after two years of the beginning of the latest round of the Erasmus+ program, urges for “sector-specific strategies” to make participation in democratic life a priority.
It features initial findings of the ongoing ESNsurvey XV that has so far received more than 12,000 responses from Erasmus+ students who had been on mobility since 2021 and more than 2,500 from students yet to take part in mobility experiences.
The paper details that participants continue to be considerably satisfied with the program, but that “overall satisfaction with both sending and receiving higher education institutions is now lower than at the end of the last programming period”.
It also adds that more measures should be developed at all levels to remove barriers to participation. Barriers for non-mobile students include financial constraints, limited availability of scholarships and complex and lengthy application processes.
“Going against conventional wisdom, students do not identify the lack of language skills or cultural differences as their main barriers to mobility,” it added.
Other challenges that Erasmus+ participants face include accommodation difficulties and problems with the courses and other academic aspects, such as recognition or changes in documentation.
The association’s recent How are exchange students in Europe navigating the housing crisis? report, produced in collaboration with ESU, identified that 25% of the almost 9,000 respondents surveyed in November 2022 experienced scams when searching for housing.
A lack of information about housing conditions and excessive deposit payment requirements were also cited as problems.
“Accommodation-related challenges have become more acute in the last two years,” the new report said.
More than half of respondents to the housing survey were spending over €400 per month on accommodation, which is higher than the average Erasmus+ grant in most South European countries.
“Lack of funding seems to affect almost a third of the students, showing that the current top-up grants are not reaching all those students who need them and that the target of 10% is not enough to reach the objective of widening participation in the program,” the report added.
“Solving these problems should be a priority to improve the overall quality of the program since they can affect the mental health of students or their motivation to study.”
ESN noted the Erasmus+ top-up system as “one of the most important novelties” in the latest program compared to the previous one.
An average of 10% of students report receiving a top-up grant, it added.
“Students who receive the top-up report fewer financial difficulties covering their living expenses, pointing to the partial success of the initiative,” it read, but added that a “fragmented grant system” is making Erasmus+ opportunities “too different depending on where people study”.
Preliminary data from the ESNsurvey indicates that across Europe the average grant amount is now €469, up by almost €100 on 2020 figures.
The implementation of top-ups and the grant increases by National Agencies is a “step in the right direction”, but masks stark differences between countries.
“South-Western European countries have grant levels closer to the minimum. Meanwhile, central and Eastern European countries, both north and south, tend to have higher grant levels,” the paper notes.
It also warned that the “low amount of the Green Travel top-up has not led to a substantial increase in the use of sustainable means of travel among mobility students”.
ESN’s GreenErasmus petition has called for the current €50 green travel top up to be increased to €250. The campaign has been signed by more than 5,000 people from over 100 countries.
“More than a quarter of students report receiving their grants later than one month after the start of their mobility”
Timing of grants varying across different countries is “truly unacceptable”, it continued.
“More than a quarter of students report receiving their grants later than one month after the start of their mobility,” it said – which is similar to 2021 data. The new program “has not brought enough progress in this area”, the report concluded.
“In South European countries, such as Spain (66%), Italy (40%), or France (49%), [students] receiving their grants later than one month after the beginning of the mobility is the most common situation,” it said.
Students highlighted that the Erasmus+ program impacts their personal growth and self-confidence, intercultural communication and language skills and a better understanding of their hosting communities. It also allows them learn about different cultures, learning environments and improve a foreign language.
“Erasmus+ students consider that access to exchange opportunities like Erasmus+ are very important to them (81% consider it so), as well as the possibility to live, work and study in any other EU Member State (77%). Participating in Erasmus+ makes students strong advocates for a united Europe,” the report concludes.
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