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Brussels, 21th March 1997

A top-up funding for the Socrates programme

The Socrates programme for cooperation in education will receive additional funding under a proposal just put to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament by the European Commission at the initiative of Commissioner Edith Cresson. The five-year (1995-99) programme, which has a budget of ECU 850 million, would be increased by ECU 50 million. It was agreed with the Council and Parliament that top-up funding could be considered following a mid-term review.The review confirms that demand for participation in the programme far outstrips its financial resources. Requests for grants in 1996 totalled more than ECU 700 million, compared with the ECU 173 million available. The current average grant to which a student eligible for approved Socrates-Erasmus exchange schemes is entitled amounts only to ECU 750 for a full academic year.

Some 1,600 higher education institutions throughout the EU have applied for a Socrates contract to run European activities in the 1997-98 academic year. The total grant request amounts to ECU 250 m.

Schools are equally eager to form European partnerships under the Comenius chapter of the programme, but the most they have each been able to receive so far has normally been only ECU 2,000 per annum. Pressure on national education budgets throughout the EU makes it particularly difficult for schools to obtain further complementary funding.

With 70 million school pupils, 4 million teachers, 11 million students and millions of adult learners in the EU, the influence and multiplier effect of Socrates depend on maintaining a critical mass of good quality projects adequately spread through the European education community. This cannot be achieved by diluting project funding to even lower levels, or by raising levels of selectivity which are already very high.

"The Socrates programme has proved to be an outstanding success", Madame Cresson said. "It has a vital role to play in developing high-quality education and preparing young people to live and work in the broader European context. It is making the EU an accessible, living reality for hundreds of thousands of people of all ages. It is increasingly centre stage in the process of enlargement. And this contribution is achieved at little cost - even with the additional funding, Socrates will only account for some 0.2% of the Community budget in 1998".

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