The Erasmus programme is a European Commission scheme that allows Higher Education students the chance to study in one of 30 other European countries for three to 12 months. Over 2,500 Higher Education institutions take part and you can study any subject from architecture to zoology. What could be better than discussing geography over beer and pretzels in a German beer garden and getting some money for it?

The Erasmus student grant was €344 (£246) a month in 2005-2006. You can still take out your student loan (at an enhanced rate for studying abroad), you pay no tuition fee to your host university and, if you go for a full year with Erasmus, you pay no tuition fee for that year to your home institution either. Student discounts may be offered, such as university accommodation and reduced travel costs in your host city.

Many UK students are not aware of the programme and its benefits, and do not realise that it could be an option for them. It's not just for language students either. You will be in another European country so a knowledge of the language will be useful. However, many countries offer courses taught in English, and language tuition is offered via intensive language courses funded by the European Community, or courses run by the host university. Plus, when you are living in the country it is so much easier to pick up the phrases and language you need to get by.

A study period in a foreign country will give you the skills for work and an addition to your CV that employers are often keen to see. In a 2004 survey of employers, The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that 49 per cent indicated concern at poor graduate language skills. Studying abroad gives you these language skills and others such as adaptability and flexibility, understanding of other cultures, and maturity. It shows an employer that you can work outside your comfort zone, and haven't just taken the easy route through university. Many students have found that it renewed their interest in their chosen subject, giving them a different perspective. Easy to see why, when you are studying and working with students from all over Europe!

When you first start at a foreign institution it can be an adjustment. However, some students have found that having to put in a little more effort has actually produced better results than expected and they have excelled in their subject. The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) allows you to transfer the credit you have gained in your host university to your course in the UK, without the need to undertake further exams or coursework.

Jan Kennedy went from Bournemouth University to the Polytechnic of Coburg in Germany to continue his business studies with German degree. He says, "Academically I received a great deal. I found myself building my own timetable of lectures and this freedom of choice motivated me so much more to study the subjects. I became aware of new learning and teaching methods as well as alternative approaches to structure."

It's not all work, work, work - there will be time for socialising too! You'll be living and studying alongside students from your host country, as well as students on the Erasmus programme from all over Europe. You make friends for life and have the opportunity to easily travel to other countries close by.

Benjamin Wastnage went to Aix-en-Provence in France from Durham University and studied politics. "I think about what I would have done if I stayed in the UK last year. Of course I would have had a great year, but I wouldn't have had the experiences that I have had. I would never have been able to experience the passion of a nation for the country, or understand how important the EU is for many people. It was great to learn a language, to be accepted into a different culture and to realise that there is a huge world out there to explore, and that a major part of this world is right on our doorstep in Europe."

Janine Ashton took part of her tourism management degree for Salford University at the Pirkanmaa Polytechnic in Finland. She says of studying abroad: [It] has been the turning point in my life which has opened up my horizons to increased choices and a more optimistic future. I would recommend it to every student wishing to enhance their university years."

Sue Hopkinson is an international officer at Erasmus. For more information visit www.erasmus.ac.uk or e-mail info@erasmus.ac.uk

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