Irish shy away from EU study scheme


A LOW take-up of the Erasmus exchange programme places by Irish students is being blamed on their reluctance to study in non-English speaking countries.

The European Union-funded programme allows third-level students complete part of their study or training abroad to improve their language skills and build up a network of contacts in other countries.

A total of 2,128 Irish students went abroad under Erasmus student mobility schemes during the last academic year (2009/2010) for a period of study or for a work placement as part of their degree course. This was less than half the number of foreign students (5,073) that came to Ireland to avail of similar opportunities. Relative to the student population, Ireland’s participation in the programme is about half that of Italy or Spain.

“It’s long been observed that, per head of students, Ireland takes in a lot more Erasmus students than it sends out,” said Denis Crowley of the European Commission directorate general for education and culture.

“One explanation seems to be our low rate of language learning. We assume that people are hesitating to go where English is not the language,” he said.

However, the head of Trinity College’s school of languages, literature and cultural studies, Sarah Smyth, said the figures had to be viewed in the context of a huge global demand to learn English which made Irish students “slightly complacent”.

She said there were also financial considerations regarding the take-up of placements as the grants provided under the scheme were relatively small.

Nevertheless, she said there was a more pronounced anxiety in Ireland about studying in an environment where one did not have sufficient language skills, and there was nothing in our public discourse which identified the benefits to be derived from an international education.

According to European Commission representative in Dublin, Ruth Deasy, the low take-up of Erasmus placements abroad is mirrored by the low level of Irish applications for European Commission internships and civil service jobs.

“We notice that Irish graduates are not doing as well as they should in the competitions to get into the EU civil service,” she said.

“It looks as if their language skills are not up to the mark, which is a shame. We Irish officials are an ageing cohort and Ireland needs to get its young people into position so that they can influence events in the EU from the inside.”

Yesterday, the European Commission published proposals to amalgamate the seven existing EU exchange programmes under a new “Erasmus for All” scheme and to increase its budget to €19 billion.