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Why changes to Spain's Erasmus programme are a bad idea

Por: | 07 de marzo de 2014


Cristina Gullón contributed to this article.

It is a “virtuous cycle” according to this Harvard Business review article: better levels of English go hand in hand with an improving economy.

Government plans to cut spending on the Erasmus programme, a scheme offering grants to students wanting study or work abroad, could therefore be stunting future economic growth. Many commentators, including in this paper, have been rather scathing.

Research suggests a raft of economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI) are improved by a good level of English in the general population.

Indeed if we look at this graph comparing GNI per person across Europe with scores on the English Proficiency Index, there aren’t too many surprises. This graph looks a bit boring and serious, but the illustrations do get more colourful. Bear with me.

Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands do well on both counts and Switzerland, whilst sitting half way along the EPI axis, is a country where three other languages are often spoken and  is something of a special case anyway.

Poland Estonia and Hungary all have growing economies and high-levels of English. Their weaker economic starting points make them ones to watch in the future.

But what of Spain?

Spain sits about half way up the chart in terms of income but has the fourth worst English in the sample. Incomes are dropping as the government seeks to get the deficit under control.

France and Italy, behind Spain on levels of English but above on per capita income, should probably rethink too: investing in education including languages is the type of forward thinking that can make all the difference to an economy a couple of election cycles down the line.

When it comes to the Erasmus programme Spain seemed to be doing rather well, perhaps sending disproportionately large numbers of students abroad:

Cutting the number of months that a student spends abroad seems to be the solution the government has plumped for. But four months is a very short time to master a language, meaning less return for investment (see case study).

This could have been used as an indication that Spain is spending in a profligate manner compared to most EU countries, but once we adjust the graph for population any hint of disproportionate spending vanishes.


In this collage Spain is behind many other countries, including those with more successful language teaching in early education, an area where Spain falls down.

Then again, perhaps it is better to look at the figures through the percentage of students in higher-education who take an Erasmus placement. Spain is high on this list, behind only Denmark.

Depending on the glass through which you view this, Spain has either been spending too much or spending wisely.

Looking only at those in education is a narrow way to view the problem, however. After all, this generation’s taxes pay for the last’s state pensions and the next’s education. An investment in education is one for the whole country, not just students. That’s really what the first graph was all about.

How much does Spain spend on the Erasmus programme anyway?

What is more, Erasmus spending isn’t even really that much. With the grand total for mobility spending (helping students with the cost of living abroad) costing €32,251,971 it’s hardly breaking the bank.

Just think: people in the UK spent £1.2billion (1.2 thousand million) on fish and chips last year, according to the Federation of Fish Fryers, whom I suspect may have their numbers wrong.


With joblessness high and more youngsters than ever looking for opportunities abroad, it couldn’t hurt foreign investment in Spanish business, the jobs market or the future of the economy to bolster this important strand of education.

Spain is the most popular destination for Erasmus students

And we shouldn’t forget the boost to the economy provided by Erasmus students coming to Spain: over 39,000 of them.  More than the 26,000 odd that left to study overseas. Spain is the most popular destination in the whole of Europe for Erasmus students and assuming each of those students pays into the country what he or she receives in grants, Spain’s economy may actually gain from the program.


Case Study

By Cristina Gullón

Being an Erasmus student was one of the most important experiences of my life. While I lived in, Siena, Italy, I had the opportunity not only to learn a new language, but also to broaden my horizons and learn a lot about the Italian culture and traditions.

I stayed there for around a year, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have had the same experience if I had spent only four months there.

During my first two months I was lost in the middle of a new country, with a language that I barely spoke, and attending lessons that I couldn’t really understand. But after the first four months, I was fully adapted and I could enjoy all the new great things that Italy had to offer.

Cristina Gullón is a presenter and writer at Deverdad TV.

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ank you so much for this. I was into this issue and tired to tinker around to check if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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