Is it worth doing a year abroad in college?

Ask Brian: Erasmus placements boost language skills and job opportunities

Erasmus placements are particularly helpful for improving foreign language skills. Photograph: iStock

Erasmus placements are particularly helpful for improving foreign language skills. Photograph: iStock

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My daughter is doing the Leaving Cert in June and is looking at a number of degree programmes which have a year abroad. I’m not so sure whether this is a worthwhile thing for her to do. What benefits will it have for her upon graduating?

Erasmus has been a feature of Irish higher education for more than 30 years. It is the EU’s flagship education and training programme, which supports student study and work abroad periods.

Erasmus is open to about 30 institutions in Ireland that are part of a European network of 4,000 higher education institutions.

It is open to all disciplines and while study/work abroad opportunities are available through the English language in many parts of Europe, it is particularly helpful for improving foreign language skills.

This is one of the main benefits. As any language student will tell you, there’s nothing to compare with the immersive experience of learning a language in the country where it is spoken.

Erasmus participants also develop many other skills and competencies sought by employers. They tend return to Ireland with an increased level of digital competence, sense of initiative and entrepreneurship.

They develop intercultural skills and a wide network of friends throughout the world. According to a European Commission study, Erasmus alumni double their chances of employment a year after graduation.

They tend to find their first job faster and earn 25 per cent more than students who have not completed Erasmus.

The Erasmus scheme is open to all students pursuing a bachelor, master or PhD. However, not all courses take part, so students should check with the relevant course co-ordinator. In Ireland, the Higher Education Authority co-ordinates the scheme.

Study visits

There are two types of placements available : study visits and traineeships.

Study visits involve the student attending class and sitting their exams in another European country; the minimum duration is three months.

Traineeship involves a work placement in a company or other employer. The minimum duration is two months. For the latter, this can also be accommodated during the summer holiday period.

There is also financial support available. The mobility grant for a study visit ranges between €230 and €280 per month, depending on the destination country. The grant for those taking a traineeship (work placement) is €330 to €380 per month.

Additional financial support is available for students with a disability and for those in receipt of the higher education grant. Students in receipt of the adjacent Susi grant can have their support changed to the “non-adjacent” rate.

While study visits are often described as a “year abroad”, it’s not technically true in most cases.

Students pay their Irish registration charge as normal and are not subject to any tuition or further registration fees at their host university.

Sometimes the cost of living can be lower in other countries; so with proper preparation, an Erasmus period can often cost less than the year studying in Ireland.

Email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com

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