The statistics, covering the 2011-2012 academic year, also show that the programme enabled more than 250 000 Erasmus students – a new record – to spend part of their higher education studies abroad or to take up a job placement with a foreign company to boost their employability. More than 46 500 academic and administrative staff also received support from Erasmus to teach or train abroad, an experience designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the 33 countries which participate in the scheme (EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey).
Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said: "The latest record figures, showing that we have exceeded our target of 3 million Erasmus students, are testament to the enduring success and popularity of the programme. Erasmus is more important than ever in times of economic hardship and high youth unemployment: the skills and international experience gained by Erasmus students make them more employable and more likely to be mobile on the labour market. Erasmus has also played a tremendous role in improving the quality of higher education in Europe by opening up our universities and colleges to international cooperation. Looking to the future, I'm delighted that our new Erasmus+ programme will enable 4 million young people to study, train, teach or volunteer abroad in the next seven years."
Among the countries participating in Erasmus, the three most popular destinations for students in 2011-2012 were Spain, France and Germany. Spain also sent the largest number of students abroad, followed by Germany and France.
Nearly 205 000 students, around 80% of the total supported by Erasmus in 2011-12 opted to spend an average of six months abroad at a university or other higher education institution, as part of their degree programme. The number choosing the study option increased by 7.5% compared with the previous year. With a growth rate of 18% on the previous year, job placements in companies continue to be increasingly popular. In 2011-12, one in five Erasmus students, almost 50 000 in total, chose this option.
Demand continued to exceed the availability of Erasmus grants in most countries. The average monthly Erasmus grant, designed to cover part of the additional costs of living abroad and travel, was €252. The grant, which has remained stable for the past three years, is topped up in some countries by national, regional or institutional funds.
Erasmus+, the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport, due for launch in January 2014, will build on the legacy of Erasmus by offering opportunities for 4 million people to study, train, teach or volunteer abroad by 2020. The programme is expected to have a budget of around €14.5 billion for 2014-2020 - 40% more than funding for the current education and training mobility programmes. Erasmus+ replaces the current Lifelong Learning Programme (Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci, Comenius, Grundtvig), as well as Youth in Action, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Alfa, Edulink and the bilateral cooperation programme with industrialised countries.