Thousands of teenagers will be entitled to a free European InterRail pass this year. The European Commission has confirmed that up to 30,000 18-year-olds could snap up the travel card -worth hundreds of euros – for travel in 2018. A total of €12 million will be spent on the project, which is designed to help cultivate a sense of European identity among the continent’s youth. All EU citizens born in the year 2000 are eligible to apply for a pass through the European Youth Portal.
This includes Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese and Cypriot European citizens, despite those countries not being part of the InterRail network. British youngsters will only be eligible for a pass in 2018, as the country is set to leave the EU in May 2019. With the InterRail pass, youngsters will be able to hop on almost any train across the EU. There are terms and conditions applied, with travel limited to a certain time period. At least 20,000 young travellers are expected to seize the opportunity. The free passes will be allocated using a neutral selection process if there are more applicants than tickets.
The original idea – first proposed in 2016 – was to give every young European citizen a free InterRail pass on their 18th birthday. But with the cost estimated at €1 billion, the Commission was forced to first prove that a smaller version of the plan could help foster a stronger European identity. Next year another 30,000 European teenagers will have the chance to travel the continent. Then, if successful, a free InterRail pass will become a standard birthday present for 18-year-olds after 2020.
Malta has become the second European country to extend voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds in all elections. Members of the Maltese parliament unanimously supported the decision to amend the constitution. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said his country had ‘made history’ by becoming the second European nation after Austria to lower the voting age to 16.
In Estonia 16-year-olds can vote in local but not national elections. In the UK, Scottish 16-year-olds can vote in Scottish parliamentary elections but not in the British general election. Malta’s decision instantly adds another 8,500 voters into the mix. European parliament elections held in 2019 will be their first opportunity to cast a vote.
It is not an entirely new experience for Maltese youth. Since 2015 they have been able to vote in council elections from the age of 16. There is still work to be done, however, said the country’s University Students Council. It has argued that 16-year-olds should also be able to stand for election. Currently the age limit is set at 18.
Students are dropping out of British universities at a faster rate than ever before, an alarming new study has shown. Elite institutions such as Cambridge still boast an envious 1% drop-out rate after the first year of studies. But in other universities up to one in five students quit before their second year.
The most recent figures revealed by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) concern students who enrolled in the 2015/2016 term. Among full-time undergraduates beginning their first degree course, 6.4% left during the first year. This translated to a total of 26,000 dropouts. The worst performing institution was the London Metropolitan University where 19.5% of undergraduates decided enough was enough after just one year. Bolton University lost 130 of its 755 new undergraduates, a drop-out rate of 17%.
Meanwhile the percentage of students dropping out in later years continues to rise. HESA has estimated that around one in ten students starting courses in England this year will leave university without gaining any qualifications. The report’s release comes at a bad time for English universities which have been rocked by lecturer strikes over poor pay and employment conditions.
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