Erasmus grant delays blight students' years abroad

It’s been two months since term started at Umeå University, Sweden, as part of my Erasmus year abroad.

But I still haven’t haven’t received my Erasmus mobility grant – worth an average of 272 euros per month, the exact amount varying between countries depending on the cost of living.

I haven’t been told when it’s coming either – the money was meant to reach us at the beginning of the academic year.

Even better, I’ve been told that because of cuts by the European Commission, my grant is being reduced by around a third.

I’m lucky because I have the means to support myself financially – but I’m not the only one going through this.

One third of the 73 Erasmus students I’ve asked were affected by or are still experiencing similar delays. In a country as expensive as Sweden, this is no laughing matter.

Living independently in a foreign land – often for the first time – comes with multiple sources of stress: buying everything required for settling in, getting to grips with a new education system, and making a new group of friends, among others.

Many students factor in the Erasmus grants to help them with these tasks. But this delay is throwing their plans awry and adding more frustration to this stressful period.

Seven people have approached Umeå University’s housing office to postpone the payment of their rent, according to a university spokesperson.

This year, the old Erasmus system is being replaced by a new scheme called Erasmus+. As such, the UCL spokesperson says there have been bureaucratic delays in processing the paperwork that the European Commission requires through the British Council.

“In previous years, the funding process has been timely and clear, so we are confident that this is probably a one-off situation.

“UCL is committed to ensuring that all communication and requests made from the British Council are acted upon as a priority.”

They also say the university has been expressing to the British Council how critical it is for students to receive the funding.

But the fact still remains – many students from British universities remain without their grants.

Helen Chandler-Wilde, a UCL student doing her year abroad at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, may have to return home next week because she can’t afford to stay overseas without the grant.

“I have 100 euros left after paying the rent, which is to last until the Erasmus funds come ‘in the next few weeks’. I won’t have food money in a week and am even putting off buying toilet roll!

“I feel lucky that my parents have initially been able to help me out, but I can’t imagine how bad it must be for students whose parents aren’t as financially fortunate.”

Chandler-Wilde has started a petition through the university’s Conservative society to “hold UCL to account”.

Amy Williams, a student at the University of Sussex, has just started her Erasmus year at the University of Amsterdam. She is worried about her rent and is unhappy to be slipping into her overdraft.

“Studying in England, you take things like the cost of travel and the price of books for granted, as there’s always an option to get a part time job – which is not so easy when abroad.

“More than anything, it’s the sitting in limbo that is hardest to deal with,” says Williams.

A spokesperson from Sussex says: “We always encourage students to think of the Erasmus funding as a contribution towards the costs of studying abroad, rather than as an essential part of their budgeting.”

This is not just a British problem. I’ve spoken to people from German, Italian, French, Spanish and Belgian universities who have all faced – and continue to face – delays.

Patricia Charro, a student from Spain, is on an exchange at the University of Bologna. She still has no idea when her grant will come in.

She says: “This is making it hard for me to strike a balance between just getting by and enjoying my time overseas.”

In France, the problem seems worse – some students at French universities have been told that demand for funding outstrips supply.

A French student studying in the University of Bologna, who didn’t want to be named, says she and a friend were told only after they went overseas that there wouldn’t be enough money – and so they wouldn’t receive any funds.

Why are we facing these difficulties when the €15 billion budget for Erasmus+ is reportedly an increase of 40% over the previous system?

Communication has broken down somewhere and it’s us – the students who are supposed to benefit from this programme – who are suffering.

Response from the British Council:

David Hibler, Erasmus programme manager for the British Council, says: “We regret any delays students are experiencing in receiving the funds. They should be aware that this is a complex programme in its first year, with different actors working together to ensure it is launched as envisaged.

“Factors specific to the UK have led to the need for institutions to spread the funding further than previous years. Demand has grown by 9% on last year – more than in recent years – but the budget has only grown by 1%. So there’s real pressure now on the mobility budget.

“The Erasmus grant is a maintenance grant – a contribution to the additional costs of mobility. Students should still be receiving their loan from the student loan company.

“Some universities – once they’ve received the grant agreement, or even before – may have paid students in advance using money from another source.

“But we are sorry and that regret applies to any of the delays from whatever origin, including those beyond our control.”

Updated response from UCL:

A spokesperson says: “Whilst UCL waits for the funding from the British Council, our student funding office is prioritising requests from Erasmus students where financial assistance is required.

“This will ensure that UCL students are supported during their exchange.”

(Source: TheGuardian)


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!