In the footsteps of Erasmus – opportunities for studying abroad

By the time they are 18, many young adults are itching to experience new adventures. Studying abroad is a structured way to discover a new country, improve language skills and achieve internationally-recognised qualifications. Employers may also look favourably on students who have had the courage to explore or whose experience may be valuable to an international business.

Going to another country to live and study in a language that is not their mother tongue can seem a daunting prospect – but arguably less so for students from Luxembourg than many of their European counterparts.

The country’s multilingual character and exposure to other cultures give students a head start in adjusting to education and daily existence abroad. Indeed, with the University of Luxembourg being founded in August 2003, until a generation ago foreign universities were the only option to obtain a full undergraduate degree – principally in France and Belgium, but also Germany, the UK and Italy.

Even today, the country’s limited size and population offer compelling reasons for students to widen their horizons at a university abroad, for which there are two main options. First is to participate in a foreign study scheme through the University of Luxembourg. All its undergraduate students are required to spend at least one semester at a university abroad, although the partnership programmes are farther-reaching, involving research projects and exchanges.

Among the university’s partnership links are institutions such as Kings College London and France’s Université de Montpellier, both excellent institutions with long traditions of welcoming students from the grand duchy.

Another option is the EU’s Erasmus programme of student exchanges (named for the 15th century Rotterdam-born intellectual and philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, who studied in Paris and taught in Cambridge), enabling more than 4,000 participants at a time to benefit from between three and 12 months at universities in other member states. These options allow students to try out living and studying abroad for a limited time, knowing that they will return home after three, six or 12 months.

Students wishing to complete a full degree course in another country will need to consider the costs, both of tuition fees and living expenses. University tuitions vary considerably across Europe. Some countries offer free or very low-cost higher education, including Ireland, France, Germany and some of the Nordic countries, but in other EU countries such as the UK it can be almost as expensive as studying in the US. Loans, grants and scholarships may be available, but vary in value and availability from country to country.

Being an EU national ensures certain privileges. An EU citizen studying in another member state cannot be required to pay higher tuition fees than domestic students, and they are entitled to the same financial support for higher education offered by the host government to its residents.

However, this does not apply to student loans or maintenance grants for day-to-day living costs. Anyone contemplating studying abroad should examine the rules in each country on eligibility for financial support – in some cases students who have lived in a country for five or more years can obtain a maintenance grant on the same terms as its nationals. Support with living expenses may also be available from the Luxembourg government.

With this in mind, those hoping to study abroad must also consider the overall cost of living in their country of choice. Often students will find it cheaper to live outside Luxembourg – across Europe, only the Swiss cities, London, Dublin and Paris have a higher cost of living.

That leaves all of Germany, Spain and Italy, plus universities with great traditions in the Netherlands including Amsterdam, Delft and Leiden, or the Belgian cities of Brussels, Louvain and Ghent.

There are also the UK’s hallowed seats of learning including Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh – although competition for places may be very tough, and Britain’s impending departure from the EU is a significant complicating factor. The cost and accessibility implications of Brexit for students from other European countries may not be clear for some time.

Ultimately, studying abroad can be a great adventure, one that need not necessarily entail higher costs, and that can open up great career-enhancing opportunities, in Luxembourg, elsewhere in Europe or beyond. 

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