There are nearly six million young people unemployed in the EU today, with youth unemployment levels reaching above 50% in some member states such as Spain and Greece. In a rather stark illustration of the persistent labour market gaps in many world economies, the European Commission estimates there are now more than 2 million job vacancies across Europe. And yet, as reported in a recent survey of European employers, 40% of all EU companies have difficulties finding workers with the right skills.
This is the backdrop for a landmark budget agreement that was formally concluded yesterday by EU ministers. The agreement will see funding dramatically rise for two major initiatives – Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ – targeted to research and student mobility.
The budget envelopes for both programmes will now grow considerably through 2020, rising 30% for Horizon 2020 to a total of €78.6 billion. Erasmus+ will grow by 40% over the same period to a total of €14.7 billion. The EU policy news site EurActiv reports that both programmes will launch within the next month:
“The final signature by the European Parliament and the Council is now scheduled for the 11th of December, paving the way for the Erasmus+ programme to enter into force in January 2014.
We will launch the first calls for funding under Horizon 2020 next week on December 11. These calls will be a huge opportunity for scientists and businesses across the EU and beyond and are not to be missed,’ said Research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn”
Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ now become two of the biggest budget winners in a decade in which austerity and fiscal restraint are the dominant themes in Europe. As such, they reflect a remarkable exercise of political will and the belief that research, innovation, and education are the levers that will drive growth and ease unemployment across the EU.
Horizon 2020 is the largest-ever EU research programme, and one of the largest publicly funded research efforts in the world. It will fund a broad range of activities around the themes of excellent science, industrial leadership, and societal challenges.
Erasmus+ is a new programme for education, training, youth, and sport. It will provide funding for more than 4 million people to study, train, work, or volunteer abroad. This will include 2 million higher education students, 650,000 vocational training students and apprentices, and a further 500,000 travelling on youth exchanges or to volunteer abroad.
As we reported previously, Erasmus+ replaces and consolidates several current mobility programmes in the EU, including the Lifelong Learning Programme (Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci, Comenius, Grundtvig), as well as Youth in Action, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Alfa, Edulink and the bilateral cooperation programme with industrialised countries.
In broad terms, the Erasmus+ is targeted in three areas. Two-thirds of the budget is allocated to learning opportunities abroad for individuals, within the EU and beyond. The remainder will support partnerships between educational institutions, youth organisations, businesses, local and regional authorities and NGOs, as well as reforms to modernise education and training and to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and employability.
Times Higher Education adds, “[Erasmus+] also includes, for the first time, funding for staff, students and researchers to travel outside Europe and a pilot European Master’s Loan Guarantee Facility, which will provide loans at favourable rates for students pursuing master’s study in another European country.”
“This demonstrates the EU’s commitment to education and training,” said Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. “Erasmus+ will also contribute to the fight against youth unemployment by giving young people the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills through experience abroad. As well as providing grants for individuals, Erasmus+ will support partnerships to help people make the transition from education to work, and reforms to modernise and improve the quality of education in Member States. This is crucial if we are to equip our young generation with the qualifications and skills they need to succeed in life.”
An analysis of the new programme on the EAIE blog notes that as an integrated programme Erasmus+ “should be easier to access, with simplified funding rules.” The EAIE notes as well the following highlights in the new programme:
“[Erasmus+ aims to] increase current levels of mobility: greater diversity of mobility types, more inclusive programmes, more languages, etc. The level of the mobility grants will be adapted to different needs, including the country living costs…Participants of learning mobility also need better language preparation. Online tutored language courses will be developed for the five languages that have been identified to be used mainly: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. For the many other European languages, HEIs will be able to organise language support, depending on their size and capacity.
Implementing innovative practices leading to high quality teaching and learning, institutional modernisation and social innovation is the focus of the Strategic Partnerships – a new name for what most of us know as the former Multilateral Projects under the Lifelong Learning Programme. In Erasmus+, intensive study programmes, distance learning modules or blended learning modules can also be developed.”
This week’s approval of the Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ budgets follows the release earlier this fall of the 2013 Erasmus Student Network Survey (ESNSurvey 2013).
The ESN is a leading volunteer student organisation in international higher education in Europe. Its annual survey, now in its 8th edition for 2013, is the biggest European-wide research project conducted solely by volunteers and registers an average of 15,000 respondents each year. The relationship between employability and study abroad has been an increasing area of focus in the survey and was a central theme in the 2013 survey titled, “Exchange: Creating Ideas, Opportunities, and Identity.”
The 2013 survey contains several observations with respect to employability, including the following:
- Mobile students are more likely to live outside their home region than non-mobile students;
- Mobile students are more capable of searching for jobs in languages other than their mother tongue or English;
- Mobile students have a more specific idea about their career’s development. Also, they see themselves in comparatively higher positions than students without mobility experience;
- Students with exchange experience appreciate working in an international environment, the possibility to travel, and the ability to work independently more than those without.
“[ESNSurvey 2013] highlights how acquiring new marketable ideas abroad may spur entrepreneurship and how opportunities such as building up a wide international network may have positive effects on employability and entrepreneurship,” notes Julia Fellinger, ESN’s survey coordinator.
Please see our earlier post on Erasmus+ for additional background on the programme and its predecessors.