Students urged to sign up for college places across Europe
THE number of Irish students partaking in the Erasmus programme has doubled in the past seven years as a new phase of the overseas study and traineeship scheme is rolled out.
The programme, which operates in 33 European countries including Ireland, offers third-level students the chance to study or work abroad for a period of up to 12 months either during or just after they complete their degree.
Speaking at the launch of Erasmus Plus, European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly said the programme could "play a huge role" in the fight against unemployment and poor living standards across Europe.
In her address, Ms O'Reilly also encouraged Irish students to consider studying abroad if they were unsuccessful in getting a place in increasingly competitive Irish colleges.
"I think our educators at second level also need to look at the third-level possibilities for students in the EU, outside of the direct Erasmus system," she said.
And she questioned whether career guidance counsellors and teachers were informing students of the education opportunities abroad "if the CAO route doesn't work".
This coming year, around 3,200 third-level students from Ireland will take part in Erasmus Plus, the newly branded Erasmus scheme, which will remain in place until 2020 and will see students from 33 countries travel for study and work opportunities.
Exact figures for the coming year have not yet been finalised – but that number is expected to be around 3,200 – more than double the 1,500 students who took part in the programme in 2007.
Those who partake in the Erasmus Plus programme, which is run here by the Higher Education Authority and Leargas who manage international exchange programmes, complete either work placements called traineeships, or the more traditional study period abroad.
The most recent figures available show 2,762 students based in Irish colleges or universities took part in the programme in 2012-2013.
The vast bulk, some 1,976 students, opted for study programmes where they linked up with other participating colleges across the 33 European countries.
Unsurprisingly, language students were the single largest group to partake in the programme with 469 travelling as part of the scheme.
Next were business/management students with 442 participants, followed by social science scholars (215) and humanities (178).
France was the most popular destination, attracting 502 undergraduates, followed by Spain with 372 and Germany with 275, 135 participants went to the Netherlands with Spain and the UK taking 109 each. Females on the study programme outnumber male counterparts by nearly two to one.