POOR language skills mean British teenagers are losing out on EU funding to study abroad.
The Erasmus programme, launched in 1987, has helped to pay for just over a million students to spend a year at a foreign university as part of their degree course.
Thirty countries participate in the scheme which gives students about pound;100 a month. It is growing in popularity, particularly among students in Eastern Europe.
The UK is by far the biggest importer of students, receiving nearly 20,000 a year - more than double the number of students it sends out.
In recent years, the number of British youngsters participating has actually dropped slightly. The lack of interest has been put down to the limited linguistic talent of UK students, who fear that they will struggle to keep up in foreign classes.
Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner responsible for education, told The TES that Britain was not strong on foreign language teaching, despite the clear benefits of studying abroad. She said: "There are many reasons why more British students should get out. One is the employment prospects of students who have European experience." About a third of Erasmus students receive a job offer abroad and half of those are employed in the country where they studied.
The shortage of language teachers is a problem across Europe. Mrs Reding said: "If we wait for the gap to be filled by new teachers, then we will be waiting for ever and a day. We have to start educating current teachers."
Details of the EU Erasmus scheme on the web at www.europa.eu.intcommeducation