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ip/98/451

Brussels, 25 May 1998

24 countries, 1,600 universities, and over 200,000 students will take part in the European Union's Erasmus programme in 1998/99

The largest participation ever of the European University community, and the opening of the programme to six new countries, five of which are located in Eastern and Central Europe : these are the main features for 1998/99 of the Erasmus programme, the "Higher Education" strand of Socrates, the programme dealing with education in Europe. The success of Erasmus has been confirmed this year with the approval by the Commission of 1,627 institutional contracts, which detail for each participating body the European co-operation strategy and the activities envisaged for 1989/99.

The 1,627 universities (or equivalent) which will benefit from the programme originate from 24 countries : the fifteen Member States of the European Union (EU), the three countries of the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), and, for the first time, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Cyprus.

The activities approved by the Commission comprise the exchange of 200,000 students and 35,000 teachers (in 1996/97 the figures were respectively 80,000 and 16,000); the adoption by over 1,000 establishments of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS); as well as the organisation of over 250 intensive programmes, i.e. short programmes extending from 10 days to 3 months and dealing with themes of specific interest. In addition, Erasmus will support the activities of over fifty thematic networks between faculties and university departments, which aim at developing the European dimension within a specific branch.

"Reinforcing the financing thresholds; stimulating the implication of new participating countries; promoting a more even balance between countries and between disciplines : these are some of the main objectives for Socrates and Erasmus in 1998/99", said Edith CRESSON, Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Training and Youth.

The financial support has been improved thanks to the increase in the Socrates budget for 1998 and 1999, which was decided upon by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. As a consequence, the annual budget for Erasmus for 1998/99 will be ECU 116,25 million, which represents a 18.8 % increase as compared to last year. Within the overall budget, ECU 82,7 million will be devoted to the financing of student scholarships.

In absolute terms, the five most populated countries of the EU are most involved in student mobility, but in relative terms, i. e. the percentage of students benefiting from a mobility scheme as compared with the national student population, some of the "smaller" countries the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Finland have shown a remarkable dynamism.

The fields most concerned with student exchanges are Business (19 %), Languages and Philology (15 %), Engineering and Technology Sciences (12 %) and Social Sciences (10 %).

Encouraging statistics will also characterise the first year of the participation of the six new countries, to which Socrates has recently been opened : 149 establishments will benefit from Socrates/Erasmus in 1998/99. Their activities will involve 5,500 exchanges of students and 2,900 exchanges of teachers; 205 participations in intensive programmes; as well as the adoption of ECTS by 63 establishments located in those countries.

Launched in 1987 with a few universities, Erasmus has enabled to date 500,000 students to spend an academic year abroad, contributing thereby to the building of a genuine European citizenship. After being incorporated in 1995 into Socrates - the EU programme in favour of the entire education sector -, Erasmus has emerged progressively as the main instrument for promoting the "europeanisation" of higher education establishments.

Since the present phase of Socrates will end on 31 December 1999, the Commission will adopt in the coming days its new proposals for the second phase of the programme, which will ensure, as requested by all interested parties, a blend of continuation, consolidation and innovation.


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