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Erasmus+ funding outlook for 2021 and beyond becomes more clear

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Updated budget plans from the European Commission make it clear that programme spending for the landmark Erasmus+ mobility programme will fall short of an earlier proposal that would have doubled exchange budgets to €30 billion
  • Even so, programme spending is forecast to increase to nearly €25 billion for 2021-2027, as compared to a total budget of €15 billion in the previous seven-year budget cycle
  • Most recently, programme spending for 2021 has been set at €2.89 billion, an amount comparable to recent-year budgets

The European Union’s Erasmus+ exchange programme remains one of the largest and most important student mobility initiatives in the world. This year, the programme is drawing to the end of its current multi-year funding cycle, a period which saw a total expenditure of €15 billion (US$17 billion) to support Erasmus+ grants for more than four million people to study, train, gain work experience, or volunteer abroad.

The next budget cycle will span 2021-2027, and, in earlier budget planning in 2018, the European Commission had proposed a doubling of Erasmus+ spending that would have seen the total programme budget increase to €30 billion.

With Europe, and indeed the entire global economy, now facing the prospect of a severe recession there has been a growing concern that the EU would need to step back from that earlier spending target for Erasmus+ exchanges.

Those fears were borne out in part in late May when the European Commission released an updated budget package, which included “a major recovery plan…Next Generation EU, embedded within a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget.” The Next Generation EU package includes an additional €750 billion in grants and loans for member states, which in turn is being used to boost spending in a number of key programme areas. This includes an extra €13.5 billion in funding for the EU’s flagship collaborative research project, Horizon Europe. It also includes a spending increase for Erasmus+.

However, the proposed Erasmus+ budget for 2021-2027 now appears to put the earlier budget proposal out of each. Even with the top-up funding from the Next Generation EU package, total programme spending for the upcoming budget cycle is forecast at €24.6 billion. While this falls short of the €30 billion target from the 2018 budget proposal, it still represents a nearly two-thirds (64%) increase in programme spending for the new budget period.

The revised spending proposals have been harshly criticised by the EU’s Culture and Education Committee, which said in a statement that, “All figures are far below the Commission’s original proposal for the 2021-2027 budget. Since when does the Commission call decreases increases? Young people are seeing their worlds turned upside down by the Covid-19 crisis…Just think how Erasmus+ can support the digital transition in learning, for example, if we give it enough money. But this proposal drastically diminishes their impact and their reach. It’s bad news for young people across Europe.”

In a more recent statement, Committee Chair Sabine Verheyen added, “We do not support the Commission’s proposal…Here is what this means for EU programmes…fewer opportunities to young people – full-stop.”

The Committee’s argument is that the updated spending proposals constitute a 7% cut to Erasmus+, but that calculation references the earlier target of €30 billon in programme spending.

Practically speaking, the updated spending proposals will still see a substantial increase in the Erasmus+ budget (relative to the 2014-2020 budget period) and a corresponding increase in exchange participation.

In updated budget proposals for 2021 that were tabled on 24 June, the European Commission confirmed Erasmus+ funding for next year at €2.89 billion, an amount comparable to recent-year programme spending that will provide some stability for programme participants and stakeholders in the year ahead.

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