Eoin Ó Catháin looks at the considerable success of the Erasmus Programme and why you should consider a year studying abroad

In a European Commission report released this week, the Erasmus programme was lauded for the benefits it affords college students, from employment opportunities to romance. Erasmus (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) was established in 1987, and in 2012/13 over 270,000 students took part, with the most popular destinations being Spain, France and Germany. 

According to the report, the opportunity to see more of Europe is not the only advantage to participants. It found that Erasmus students acquire “transversal skills” which are highly valued by employers, as graduates with international experience fare better in the job market. Young people who study or train abroad are half as likely to face long-term unemployment. Five years after graduation the unemployment rate of Erasmus students is 23% lower than the average. 

This has been welcomed by the European Union, where the youth unemployment rate is as high as 25% in some countries, including Spain. 

The report interviewed many employers and found that 64% think international experience is important for recruitment. The same number admitted that graduates with international experience are given greater responsibility in the work place. 92% of employers seek particular skills which are enhanced by the Erasmus programme, including confidence, problem-solving skills and curiosity. Tests before and after the year abroad show higher levels of aptitude in all these skill areas, with the values increasing by an average of 42%.

To those who choose to undertake work experience or trainee placement, there are even more benefits. 10% of Erasmus participants went on to start their own company, and 75% are planning or envisage themselves doing similarly. These entrepreneurial participants can also expect quicker advancement in the workplace. 

Outside of the workplace, the social effects are also notable: 40% of former Erasmus students moved to another country after graduation, 93% can imagine living abroad in the future, 33% have a lift partner of a different nationality, with 27% meeting their life partner during their stay abroad. One figure in particular has courted media attention, with the Commission estimating that one million babies are likely to have been born thanks to the programme since 1987. 

The programme itself is changing, and Erasmus+ is being introduced in 2014, with 15 billion euro invested over the next 7 years. It is hoped that this will provide over 4 million students the opportunity to travel abroad from 2014-2020. 

Universities will welcome this report and promote language courses for young students. Other reports showing that Ireland lags far behind other EU countries in their multilingual skills, with warnings from Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg that Irish students will be overlooked for employment opportunities in favour of their more linguistically adept counterparts. 

What do you think? Have you returned from Erasmus recently or are you leaving soon? Are you heartened by these figures? Are you an Erasmus baby? Let us know your thoughts.