Erasmus+, the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport, will provide grants for more than four million people across the EU – most aged under 25 – to spend part of their studies or training in another country. This international experience is aimed at increasing knowledge of foreign languages and other skills which boost employability. Envisaged to have a budget of nearly €15 billion between 2014 and 2020, Erasmus+ is open to students, apprentices, teachers, youth leaders and volunteers.
Nearly 40 000 British citizens currently receive EU grants to study, train or volunteer abroad each year under existing EU grant schemes. This compares with 83 000 a year in Germany and more than 70 000 a year in both France and Spain.
"We want to encourage more young people in the UK to take full advantage of the grants and opportunities available through Erasmus+. It's not just about improving language skills. It's about opening up minds to new ideas and meeting people from different cultures. It's an experience which boosts adaptability, self-confidence and job prospects. It's also a lot of fun – so, don't miss out, sign up for Erasmus+", said Mrs Vassiliou.
Recent statistics on foreign language learning in the UK present a mixed picture. The number of UK universities offering degrees in the two most popular languages has plunged by 30% for French (from 105 courses to 70) and more than 50% (from 105 to 50) for German studies since 2000. The number of 18 year olds applying to study European languages has also fallen by nearly 17% since 2010, according to UCAS, the higher-education admissions management organisation.
The picture is brighter at GCSE level: UK Government figures show a near 16% growth in the number of students taking foreign language GCSEs this year, a rise in part attributed to the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Experts believe that this increase will have a significant impact on the numbers taking languages at A level or university in future. Another cause for optimism is that from September 2014, compulsory language teaching in England's primary schools will start at age 7.