The news that the Spanish government is making yet more cuts is not surprising. This time it will affect those wishing to go on Erasmus (an exchange programme where students can spend up to a year abroad in a host university funded by the government and EU). Spain is currently the European country with the highest number of students participating in the ERASMUS scheme, sending some 39,000 students abroad every year….
As well as a small EU grant to study in their country of choice, students can expect to receive around 120 euros a month from the government to cover living expenses while they are there. The plan to cut these living expenses for all but the poorest students in the middle of the semester caused outrage among young Spaniards, especially those who are currently abroad and would see their already limited funds diminished in a matter of weeks. In the end, the government was obliged to maintain the grants until the end of the academic year, after which the new plan will come into effect. Next year’s students from medium to low income backgrounds will have to think twice before signing up to go abroad.
This is just one example that reflects a growing trend of limiting higher education to wealthier students, and dissuades those who may have the brains and the talent but not the economical means to study. By raising fees and cutting financial aid for all but the very hard-up, universities are turning into business enterprises whose doors are only open to those who can afford to study there; the high entry grade has been replaced by a high entry fee.
It may seem a little ironic: Spain has a government bent on making its younger generation multi-lingual, while simultaneously cutting funds that enable its youth to learn languages. Erasmus is an invaluable experience for students especially those studying languages or translation. It gives them the chance to immerse themselves fully in the language and culture they have chosen to study, providing them with a once in a lifetime experience.
In countries where living costs are high, a grant of 120 euros a month is hardly a generous sum, especially if you choose to study somewhere like London or Paris.
Taken on its own, the cut may not seem like the end of the world for Spanish education. But if we look at it as one example of an increasingly popular tendency to limit opportunities for young people, it paints a rather depressing picture of the future education system. It is a little less bright and a little less diverse than it was before.