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EU downplays brain drain at Erasmus event

Any 'brain drain' from Southern Europe to the north is actually not a problem. And the Erasmus programme is not making it worse, agree EU Commissioner and Danish minister in Copenhagen. The exchange programme's 25 years celebrated with speeches, royals, toasts

Problems with imbalances in the European-wide exchange programme Erasmus as a result of the economic recession, are still more than outweighed by the programme’s advantages.

This is according to EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and Danish Minister for Higher Education Morten Østergaard, speaking at what in effect is a massive Erasmus birthday party and a conference at the University of Copenhagen Wednesday. The conference featured other prominent guests such as Princess Marie of Denmark.

The celebration takes place as the first of the so-called citizen’s initiatives to European legislation under the Lisbon Treaty was admitted in Brussels. An initiative that goes even further than an already announced EU Commission proposal that will boost funding to the Erasmus programme with 71 per cent.

Commissioner: It will alleviate imbalances

Answering a question from the University Post about how southern European countries may be losing their best and brightest, as generous exchange programmes to the north of Europe converge with record-high unemployment, the EU Commissioner downplayed the risk:

»Within the EU Commission we do not see it as a problem. In fact, we are actually encouraging it.«

»When you have engineers who cannot get a job in, say, Spain, and you at the same time have a demand for engineers in, say, Germany, then we need to encourage the alleviation of this temporary imbalance,« she said.

Minister: Erasmus also good for sending countries

Morten Østergaard, the Danish Minister of Higher Education, concurs with the Commissioner, saying in effect that a brain drain is good.

»My conviction is that we need to keep the international students here. We like to have them here because we, and many of our Danish companies need their qualifications,« he says.

Fears of the Erasmus programme pushing the most talented from the south to the north are exaggerated. »If you look at the greater picture, then [student mobility ed.] generally ends up assisting the countries that send students, just as it assists the countries that receive them,« he says, adding that the vast majority of exchange students return to be productive citizens in their country of origin.

Praise from uni

The press conference was packed with journalists from southern European countries like Spain, Greece and Malta, and questions to the panel included everything from administration in Maltese Erasmus programmes to the imbalance to and from new member states such as Croatia.

The proposal by the European Commission had earlier been praised by the University of Copenhagen’s International Office.

»We are pleased with the new ‘Erasmus for All’ plan. I think it will lead to a simplification of the EU system, which has been quite complicated up till now. The University of Copenhagen will save a lot of money on administration. On top of this we will get more international students,« said John Edelsgaard Andersen of the International Office in an earlier interview.

Critics: Too expensive

Critics of Erasmus say that the huge programme no longer delivers value for money, and that it is too general to promote the entrepreneurship skills needed for new European businesses.

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