Erasmus+ participation doubles in 2014; boosts youth employment

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Under an expanded funding formula, participation in the Erasmus+ European student mobility programme more than doubled in 2014
  • 500,000 students and 150,000 educators received funding for training, study, and volunteering abroad that year
  • The programme has been shown to have significant effects on the employability of participants
  • This is especially true for programme alumni in Eastern Europe, whose risk of long-term unemployment was reduced by 83%, and Southern Europe, where mobile students were half as likely to experience long-term unemployment

In December 2013, European Union ministers concluded an agreement for a major consolidation and expansion of student mobility programmes across Europe. That landmark agreement created Erasmus+ and provided for a 40% increase in mobility funding through 2020.

Erasmus+ has a total budget of €14.7 billion (US$16.4 billion) and a newly released report for 2014, the first full year under the new programme, confirms total spending of €2.07 billion (US$2.3 billion) over the year, with two-thirds of that total (or about €1.2 billion) allocated to mobility programmes.

That concentrated spending led to a dramatic increase in European student mobility in 2014. Nearly 650,000 people participated in training, study, or volunteering abroad, including roughly 500,000 students and trainees and 150,000 teachers and educators who had “the opportunity to improve their competencies by teaching and training abroad.” The majority of Erasmus+ participants come from six EU countries: Germany (11.6%), France (10 %), Spain (9.3%), Poland (8.2%), Italy (7.3%), and Turkey (5.3%).

Those lofty numbers for 2014 compare to the 272,497 students, trainees, and staff that participated in Erasmus+ predecessor-programmes in 2013/14.

Detailed profile data for 2014 participants has not yet been released. But harking back to 2013/14 Erasmus statistics, 61% of the programme participants that year were women, and the average age of participants was 23.

Roughly two-thirds were enrolled at the undergraduate level, and 29% in Master’s programmes. Students spent on average six months abroad, and the most popular destinations in 2013/14 were Spain, Germany, France, United Kingdom, and Italy.

Focus on post-secondary

“During the first year Erasmus+ has proved a true success,” says EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics.

“The impressive number of participants is proof that the programme is making a difference in improving young people’s employment prospects, helping them acquire new skills and experiences, and supporting the modernisation of Europe’s education, training, and youth systems.”

As the following table reflects, 2014 spending (and mobility) was heavily concentrated in higher education and vocational education and training (VET). The report notes that more than 50% of VET participants are engaged in work placements or other practical training with companies. Nearly nine in ten higher education participants, meanwhile, report receiving full recognition at home for academic credits earned abroad.

erasmus-project-approvals-spending-and-participant-counts-for-student-and-staff-mobility-projects-2014
Erasmus+ project approvals, spending, and participant counts for student and staff mobility projects, 2014. Source: European Commission

The focus on post-secondary mobility is not surprising given the very clear linkages between Erasmus+ and the EU’s social and economic development goals. “The pivotal role of the EU as a catalyst to generate economic dynamism and political stability relies on a knowledge-based environment that promotes social cohesion,” says the annual report. “The many challenges the EU is facing – the aftermath of the economic crisis coupled with high unemployment rates, demographic ageing, skills shortages, technological developments, global competition – prompted the EU to set a broad agenda for growth and jobs for a whole decade: to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy.”

Driving better employment outcomes

Many of the Erasmus+ 2014 projects are scheduled to operate for 18-to-24-month terms and so are not yet finalised. “It is therefore too early to make today a qualitative assessment of the impact of the new programme but the outputs are already tangible,” says the report.

But, to take a broader view, students are historically motivated to enter the programme by a desire for international experience and by an interest in boosting their career prospects. Nine in ten say they want to join the programme to experience living abroad, learn or improve a foreign language, and develop their skills. Slightly less (87%) say they want to enhance their employability abroad, and nearly eight in ten also want to improve their employment prospects at home.

These goals are well reflected in a second newly released report, The Erasmus Impact Study, which provides a detailed analysis of 71,368 responses to a 2014 survey of former programme participants.

The impact study looks at the personality traits and skills of programme participants, both before and after their Erasmus experience and also in comparison to non-mobile students (that is, to those who did not go abroad). The study makes two notable findings in this respect:

  • Erasmus students show higher values for personality traits that are highly valued by employers – including the ability to work in teams, communication skills, planning skills, and problem-solving skills – than do non-mobile students.
  • Erasmus participants show a marked improvement in such skills after their experience abroad.

“The average change achieved in six months through the Erasmus programme can be considered equivalent to a personality change that would normally happen over four years of life without Erasmus experience.”

The impact study also clearly demonstrates a relationship between Erasmus participation and employment outcomes. The effects were most notable for participants in Eastern Europe, whose risk of long-term unemployment was reduced by 83% (compared to non-mobile students), and Southern Europe, where mobile students were half as likely to experience long-term unemployment compared to those who had not gone abroad.

The impact report adds, “Work placements seem to have a particularly direct positive impact on finding a job, with one in three Erasmus students on average offered a position by their host company. In Southern Europe, this share even goes up to almost one in two students, with Italy (51%) and Portugal (47%) at the top.”

The pattern holds true as much as a decade after graduation, where the unemployment rates of mobile students remain consistently lower. Southern Europe is again a notable region in this respect with 56% less Erasmus alumni experiencing unemployment five to ten years after graduation compared to non-mobile students.

Also within that five-to-ten-year window after graduation, considerably more Erasmus alumni hold management positions (64% for alumni compared to 55% for non-mobile students). This is especially true for participants in Eastern Europe where the gap is more like 70% for alumni to 41% for non-mobiles. In Hungary alone, nine out of ten Erasmus alumni hold management positions within a decade of graduation (more than twice the rate at which non-mobile students acquire such positions).

Erasmus participation has also been shown to promote labour mobility. Four in ten programme alumni have moved to another country at least once since graduation (compared to 23% of non-mobiles). Further, former Erasmus participants remain more open to international experience with 93% expressing an interest in living and working abroad (as opposed to 73% of non-mobile students).

Finally, the impact study also clearly establishes the role of Erasmus in boosting mobility within Europe. More than half of students in Southern Europe and Eastern Europe struggle to go abroad due to a lack of financial support, but 68% in Eastern Europe alone indicate that the ability to access an Erasmus grant is a major factor in their decision to pursue an international experience.

At the end of the day, Erasmus+ is a very ambitious and highly targeted effort to boost education and training and reduce youth unemployment. The impact studies of previous Erasmus participants and the dramatic expansion of European mobility that began in 2014 under Erasmus+ both indicate that the programme has a significant impact on employment outcomes and labour mobility in Europe.

Even so, more than five million young Europeans (ages 15-24) were unemployed in 2015. The European Commission reports a youth unemployment rate of 23.7% across the European Economic Area. This translates into one in five young Europeans that are unable to find a job, and, in more extreme cases such as Greece or Spain, as many as one in two.

The 2014 Erasmus+ report concludes, “Against this backdrop, Erasmus+ is supporting the EU strategic agenda by promoting investment in people benefiting both individuals and society and contributing to growth and prosperity. It helps young people and adults acquire and improve skills, it enhances the quality of teaching and learning and the effectiveness and efficiency of education and training systems.”



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