The European Union’s research and innovation Horizon programme is to be cut by €10 billion and over 700,000 young will miss out on study or work opportunities abroad under the Erasmus for All scheme over the next six years.
That’s the bad news to emerge from the European Council summit when EU heads of state and government thrashed out Europe’s budget priorities for 2014-20.
The good news, according to some observers, is that it could have been a whole lot worse. NIC MITCHELL finds out what European higher education leaders think.
The deal, agreed in Brussels in the early hours of Friday 8 February, limits the maximum possible expenditure for European Union Member States in 2014-2020 to €959.99 billion and marks the first cut in EU spending in its 56 year history, with the overall expenditure (the credit card ceiling) reduced by 3.4% in real terms, compared to the current multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for 2007-2013.
Details of how the cuts will impact on specific programmes have yet to be defined, but it appears likely that the Horizon programme will get about 12% less than the €80 billion the European Commission originally asked for and Erasmus for All will get around 14% less than the €19 billion the Commission proposed.
‘700,000 will miss out’
Dennis Abbott, the European Commission’s education spokesperson, estimates that around 700,000 people will miss out on an experience abroad under the Erasmus for All programme in 2014-20 compared with the Commission’s proposals.
Quoted by University World News, Abbott pointed out that despite the current economic climate ‘there are still many positives for education, research and innovation’ in the deal reached. He estimated that even with the reduced budget, Erasmus for All would still be able to meet the costs of up to four million Europeans for study, work, teaching and learning abroad in 2014-20, compared with 2.5 million in 2007-13.
Student representatives were less enthusiastic. Karina Ufert, Chairperson of the European Students’ Union (ESU), described the European Council’s decision as ‘short-sighted’.
“Whereas headings such as agriculture remain barely untouched, governments seem to want to cut the budget proposed for education… We regret this because we need to support the generation that is supposed to take care of our continent in the future.
“These budget cuts make it impossible to reach the targets for 2020, set by the EU heads themselves”, she said, adding that Europe’s young people would feel let down. “With large number of recent graduates unable to find work and unemployment levels as high as 50% in countries such as Spain, we need strong political commitment to invest in areas such as the development of education and training systems.”
The Erasmus Student Network’s President, Emanuel Alfranseder was equally scathing, with the ESN issuing a joint statement with AEGEE-Europe, the European University Foundation-Campus Europae, and Fraternité 2020, expressing their disappointment. They claimed EU leaders were sending out a signal ‘that in these times of economic and social crisis improving ones skills and employability by spending time in another country and getting to know other Europeans is not of a higher priority’.
“EU exchange programmes can form an important element in the fight against youth unemployment, by giving European youngsters a chance to improve their skills abroad, not only trough Erasmus but also through other exchange programmes such as the European Voluntary Service (EVS) or Leonardo da Vinci,” their statement added.
‘Cuts less than feared’
More optimistic noises, however, came from Europe’s big research universities, who appeared relieved that the cuts in research and innovation were less than feared.
Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association of 21 leading European research-intensive universities, told University World News: “We will end up with €70.9 billion for Horizon 2020, and separate budgets for the big research infrastructures. Is that good or is that bad? Well, a lot of people would have signed for that over the past months because at certain moments we’ve had figures going around of 45/55/60 – so €70.9 billion is in fact not bad.”
In the UK the Russell Group, representing 24 leading research universities, said that while the final funding for Horizon 2020 was less than hoped for, “it will be key to Europe’s, and the UK’s, long-term prosperity.”
Parliament yet to vote
Meanwhile, the EUA helpfully pointed out that while the new MFF was due to come into force in January 2014 agreement with the European Parliament has yet to be reached.
The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz underlined the importance of education and research in his reaction to the cuts, saying: “The European Parliament feels that making savings in these areas is misguided.”
The European Parliament can only vote to accept or reject the settlement reached by the EU heads of government (the European Council). It cannot amend the budget and many MEPs want a secret ballot to avoid being pressurised by their own governments.