The ERASMUS programme, launched in 1987, promotes European exchanges between higher education establishments. Since 1995, it has been incorporated into the SOCRATES programme, the EU's programme for the entire education sector. In 1998-99, the exchange of over 200,000 students will be part-funded by the programme. A budget increase of 18.8%, giving an overall budget of ECU 116.25 million, means that a total of ECU 82.7 million will be devoted to the financing of student scholarships this year. Some 1,627 universities will participate in the scheme, which now covers 24 countries: the EU Member States plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, and, for the first time, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Cyprus. The fields most popular for student exchanges are business (19%), languages and philosophy (15%), engineering and technology (12%) and social sciences (10%). The objectives of the programmes this year were summarized by Mrs. Edith Cresson, European Commissioner responsible for education, training and youth, who stated "Reinforcing the financial thresholds; stimulating the implication of new participating countries; promoting a more even balance between countries and between disciplines, these are some of the main objectives for SOCRATES and ERASMUS in 1998/99." As the present phase of SOCRATES will end on 31 December 1999, new proposals for the second phase of the programme will soon be adopted by the Commission. These will aim to blend continuation, consolidation and innovation.