Erasmus+ students lose grants

Gina Mete, Fraser McGowan and Tanya Zhekova
News Editor, Deputy News Editor and Writer

The University of Glasgow will not pay grant funding to Erasmus+ students who are working abroad and earning more than €500 a month from their traineeship.

Research conducted by the website thirdyearabroad.com shows that across the UK, the University of Glasgow is the only higher education institution where grant funding is dependent on how much money a student earns from their placement.

Students who are due to begin credit-bearing traineeships with a monthly wage of more than €500 can still apply for Erasmus+ status, but “will not be eligible for any additional Erasmus grant funding in 2015-16.”

Erasmus+ is a European Union programme, which enables students to study, work, volunteer, teach and train abroad, within the EU. Erasmus+ was brought into the original Erasmus scheme in 2014, and it incorporates all of the  EU’s current programmes for education, training, youth and sport. It provides grants to subsidise students who study or work abroad.

Each year, UK universities must apply to the UK National Agency for Erasmus+ funding for their students. The amount of funding that each UK student can receive depends on the funding allocated to their university divided by the number of students from that university who want to participate in the programme.  According to thirdyearabroad.com, the monthly amount allocated by Erasmus+ to students doing traineeships in “high cost of living countries” is €400, and €350 in “lower cost of living countries”. Each university has a degree of flexibility in managing their own allocated budget to meet demand and can set their own eligibility and selection criteria, or limit the number of funded months available.

There are concerns that the University’s €500 cut-off point does not take into account differing living costs and rates of inflation in different countries. In Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg,  the minimum wage per month is €1473, €1502 and €1923 respectively. By contrast, in Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria, the minimum monthly wage is only €203, €218 and €184 respectively. This means that a trainee living on the minimum wage in one of the latter three countries would be eligible for a grant on top of their earnings, whereas a trainee living on the minimum wage in Belgium, Germany or Luxembourg would not receive any extra help.

A spokesman for the University told the Glasgow Guardian: “In 2014-15, there was a funding shortfall for UK universities and in order to be able to provide funding to all participating students at the University of Glasgow, we were required to set caps on maximum funding available to all students on the programme at a very late stage in the process.

“With an anticipated UK budget very similar to last year’s, and the high demand forecast this year, the University of Glasgow’s  Senior Management Group approved the decision to prioritise funding for those undertaking study exchange or placements with very limited (less than €500) or no additional payment over the small number who would receive payment from their placement provider.”

Despite claims of budgetary pressure, figures show that the total budget allocated by the European Parliament for the new Erasmus+ programme 2014-2020 is significantly larger than it was previously. According to a document called “Erasmus+: What’s in it for education, training, youth and sport?” the total budget of the Erasmus+ programme between 2014 and 2020 is €14.7bn, “representing a 40% budget increase.”

The University spokesman added: “Given that the Erasmus+ funding for 2015/16 is not expected to be confirmed until June 2015 – just before many placements start – the decision was taken to be as transparent as possible as early as possible by setting the eligibility criteria at a much earlier stage in the yearly cycle, rather than waiting until the funding is confirmed. This difficult decision was taken in order to manage expectations and aid planning for students in making decisions about their opportunities for study or work abroad next year, particularly where finances may be a factor.

“For clarity and to facilitate implementation, this was introduced as a standard limit regardless of country. The Erasmus+ grant rates are all below €500 per month so students receiving payment at this level in lieu of an Erasmus+ grant continue to have a relative financial advantage. This criterion has been set for 2015-16 and will be reviewed in subsequent years alongside an anticipated increase in funding available to UK universities.”