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European exchange programmes

Students from within Europe looking to study for up to a year in the UK should have no trouble finding an exchange programme.


ERASMUS fulfils one of the objectives of SOCRATES, the European programme for education. It aims to promote pan-European awareness, the social and personal integration of exchange students among the 31 participating countries, and to improve quality and European content in higher education.

The participating countries are:

  • the 25 Member States of the European Union
  • the 3 European Economic Area countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway)
  •  the 3 candidate countries (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey).

Transnational co-operation between universities is one of its major objectives, encouraging greater mobility of students and teachers around Europe. Almost all European universities, along with other higher education establishments, now take part in ERASMUS.

ERASMUS can give you the opportunity to study for between three and twelve months at a university or higher education institution in another ERASMUS country. And the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System ensures the work will be fully recognised by your own university or college.

You can get a grant for ERASMUS student mobility on top of any grants you receive already if your university participates in the network. The amount you receive depends both on the policy in your own country and on the total number of student applicants in each country.

’It’s easy to survive, even on a German grant. The cost of living is about half that in Germany and the price of accommodation is negligible.’

Florian Siegle, German linguistics student, University of Tartu, Estonia  

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci focuses on the European Community’s vocational training policy, once again using transnational co-operation to ratchet up the quality of vocational training in the EU and support the European dimension.

A key element is to strengthen young people’s skills and abilities through vocational training at all levels, including transnational placement projects and transnational exchange projects.

Studying in a new country can provide an amazing experience with memories that will remain with you forever. Michael MacMillan, a French language student from Nice had a brilliant time discovering places available to him on his time away from home.

Michael said: ’The best parts of my time at the language school in Nice have to be wandering round the market in the old town, sitting on the beach at Cannes, the nightclub overlooking the harbour in Monaco and skiing in the southern French Alps once a week. All in all, the school was awesome, and I had an amazing time, made lots of friends and improved my French tenfold.’

Costs and funding

You will need to cover your tuition fees. These vary in amount from one European country to another, but, in most countries, you will sometimes be charged a large fee. Under European Union (EU) rules, EU Member States must charge students from other Member States the same fees as they charge their own students.

The main categories of financial aid for study across Europe include the following:

Government sources

Most governments participate in bilateral agreements with other governments in order to help incoming foreign students and enable their own students to study in other European countries.

The EU itself, through the SOCRATES exchange programme, allows students to integrate time spent in another EU university, generally as an undergraduate, into the degree itself. Some funding is provided for this. Bilateral exchange programmes also exist between European countries and their former colonies (for example, Commonwealth Exchange Scholarships in the case of the UK).

Universities and specialist institutes

Fast facts

Which European countries supply the most students?

The top five European countries in terms of the number of students enrolled on UK higher education programmes in 2008/09 were:

Ireland (15,360)
Germany (14,129)
France (13,089)
Greece (12,034)
Poland (9,144)

Source: HESA Student Record 2008/09

When applying to any university, it is worth establishing whether it offers funding or scholarship aid to applicants from other countries. Consult the university’s prospectus and website, and ask the admissions staff and the course director.

Where money is available, there may be qualifying conditions. For example, funds may be available only to residents of that country or to graduates of that university. Funding is also much more likely to be offered for research or Doctoral studies than for a Master’s degree, and is least likely to be offered for specialised Master’s courses, for which fees are often high.

Sponsorships and trusts

Some competitive scholarships are promoted to students internationally as part of an ongoing strategy to maintain the university’s position as a centre of excellence. Examples include Cambridge, Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin.

Financial support is also available for studying European topics. The European University Institute (EUI) funds postgraduate studies in history and civilisation, economics, law and political science in a European context and the College of Europe provides several scholarships to EU citizens and others to take its Master’s courses in European integration.

It’s never too early to survey the European study scene and identify any associated funding provision. Most students wait until the final year of their first degree, by which point, they will need to act immediately. Closing dates for Council of Europe awards, in particular, can occur from November in the year preceding the start of the course.

How to find funding
  • Talk to your academic referees and ask them to put you in contact with previous graduates now studying in Europe. How are they funding further study?
  • Identify your target university’s mechanisms for publicising awards – university noticeboards, careers advisory services, etc.
  • Consult national newspapers in which government exchange awards may be advertised.
  • Check university prospectuses and websites, and the sites of national education ministries. Access these through EURYDICE, the EU’s education website.

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