Since its launch in 1988, the EU's flagship student programme has paid grants to over three million Europeans in higher education to study or work elsewhere in the Union.
The 2011-2012 academic year saw 3,328 learning institutions across Europe sending their students abroad on Erasmus placements, among them 33,363 of Germany's best and brightest.
And the "Erasmus+" project approved by the European parliament on Tuesday will invest in the scheme further, merging the student exchange with six other education initiatives to form a "streamlined" programme to give financial support to 4 million people, at a cost of €14.7 billion over seven years.
Around €4.9 billion of that is dedicated to grants for higher education and it represents around a 50 percent increase on Erasmus' budget for the previous seven years.
The new unified system will extend beneficiaries to include "youth leaders, volunteers and young sportsmen", according to the Parliament.
But with austerity-hit member states wrestling the EU's next seven-year budget down by €15 billion to €960 billion – the first cut to a multi-year plan in the Union's history – some are questioning why more taxpayer cash is being spent on non-means-tested grants to university students, while other initiatives are seeing cuts.
Stuart Agnew, an MEP from the anti-EU UK Independence Party, told the European Parliament earlier this month that he saw Erasmus as an unnecessary and "glorified" alternative to national-run programmes, and attacked it as the EU "cynically using" young people to "further its own objectives" in fostering "European values."
Spanish education minister Jose Ignacio Wert also criticized the Erasmus+ plans recently, when he claimed Spain – which sent and received more Erasmus students than any other EU member state in the 2011/2012 academic year – would have to halve their grant payments under the new programme's funding system.
But EU education spokesman Dennis Abbot dismissed the Spanish minister's announcement as "rubbish" and "totally false."