Turkish ministry cuts Erasmus funding, strands students in Europe

According to students stranded in Europe, their universities have informed them that the Turkish government drastically decreased funding for the inter-European Erasmus exchange program. The funding, which is provided by the European Union, is critical for Turkish students living abroad. Now, many of those students are stranded.

Duvar English

Turkish universities have announced that funding for the inter-European exchange program, Erasmus, has been cut from 4 or 8 months to just 2.5 months and that the distribution of this funding will be delayed by two months, according to Turkish students now stranded in Europe. 

Typically, Turkish students receive several hundred Euros a month, provided by the European Union, to live abroad for four or eight months. Now, per a decision by the Turkish National Agency, part of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, these students’ expected income has decreased in some cases by more than half. 

The Delegation of the European Union to Turkey released a written statement with regards to the issue, saying that the implementation of the Erasmus program falls under the responsibility of the Turkish National Agency.

"The Turkish National Agency is in charge of managing the funds allocated by the EU as well," it said on Sept. 28. 
"The Delegation of the EU in Turkey has established contact with the National Agency to seek more information about the problem as well as solutions being envisaged to cover the needs of Turkish students participating in the Programme," it further said. 

Erasmus was founded in 1987 as a means of facilitating cultural exchange between different European countries. Turkey formally joined the Erasmus+ program, which includes some countries from outside the European Union, in 2014. Year over year, Erasmus spends billions to fund the program - its estimated budget for 2021 is 26.2 billion Euros to fund its 4 million participants. This funding is dispersed by member countries - typically, Turkish students would receive monthly or term-long funding via their universities from the Turkish National Agency and the Foreign Ministry. 

The decision, announced by several Turkish universities, including Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ) and Marmara University, left students stranded in Europe with little idea of how they would pay their way through the rest of their time abroad. Hüma Velidedeoğlu is a student at İTÜ who spoke to Cumhuriyet from the Czech Republic. She said that there are several İTÜ students there who have been living in the country for a month. They all joined the Erasmus reliant on grants - they were told that they would receive 450 Euros a month from the time they arrived in the country. None of them have received a thing, and now their university has informed them that they will not receive anything for another two months.

Velidedeoğlu told Cumhuriyet she has spent all of the money she has and is in a desperate situation. She put her dormitory and enrollment at İTÜ on hold, which means she does not have a place to live on her home campus and cannot enroll in classes. Meanwhile, she cannot afford to stay in Europe and therefore cannot continue her schooling there. 

“If I stay, I have no money. If I return, I have no classes,” she said, “Many students are in the same situation as me.”

After last year’s Erasmus+ program was canceled due to COVID-19, Velidedeoğlu says due to this funding crisis it seems that this will be another “lost” year.

“A year gives us a critical opportunity to improve ourselves,” she said, “We don't want to throw that away.”

Another İTÜ student, identified only as U.A., spoke to Cumhuriyet about their upcoming semester abroad in Portugal. They said they were told they would receive 2,400 Euros in grants to study abroad for a semester. Now, İTÜ informed them that they would only receive 1,500 Euros. Though they still have several months before they go, they have spent both money and time in preparation. 

“I may not be able to go unless a solution is found,” they said, “This is not a cost I can afford myself. There is very poor planning and we are the victims. Everyone is throwing the ball around, blaming each other, and using the pandemic as an excuse. No one is taking responsibility.”