There has been understandable concern at the rumour that the European Union education programme Erasmus has been given fatal hemlock and supplanted by Socrates - a child of Maastricht.
Happily, this is untrue. Socrates, an exchange and language programme for universities, schools and teachers, has embraced Erasmus, keeping the name and guaranteeing it will continue until 2000.
In 199596, 14,000 students from more than 200 UK higher education institutions will study for three to 12 months in one of the EU or European Economic Area member states. The students will be joining 150,000 of their European peers.
While most elements of Erasmus remain, the key difference is a shift in emphasis. The new programme stresses the European dimension for all students, not just those who can study their subject in another country.
Universities will be asked how they propose to develop a European strategy. Help is available for transnational curriculum development and they can apply for mobility grants to enable staff to teach in another member state. Courses in the less-widely taught and spoken languages are also on offer, as are open and distance-learning projects.
HE institutions are being encouraged to extend the use of the European credit transfer system, which has been tested in a five-year pilot project. ECTS will help to ensure that students' achievements are widely understood and recognised.
The desire to extend ECTS stems from the awareness that student mobility within Erasmus will continue to grow. The predicted growth between the current year and next year is about 10 per cent. However, young people still need more encouragement from home, school and college, to consider adding the European dimension to their studies. While the numbers are large, they represent a small percentage of students.
Moreover, apart from business studies and language, most subjects are under-represented. Only 5 per cent of Erasmus students are involved in science programmes. Information technology, too, has a relatively small number.
The countries that UK Erasmus students tend to choose is another concern. Sixty per cent study in France and Germany. However, the 16 other member states also offer excellent academic and vocational courses.
The opportunities seem so exciting and varied that it is a puzzle to explain why more UK students are not taking advantage of Erasmus. Fortunately, the approval of Socrates ensures that the opportunity will be developed.
John Reilly is the director of UK Erasmus, Kent University