The Commission has proposed an increase in funding of some ECU 50 million for the SOCRATES Community action programme in the field of education. The proposal, which will be presented to the Council and the European Parliament, is a response to the high demand for funding seen in the volume of proposals submitted to the programme. In 1996, for example, requests totalled more than ECU 700 million, more than four times the ECU 173 million available. The top-up in funding was foreseen in the initial Decision adopting the programme. SOCRATES has a total budget of ECU 850 million for the period 1995 to 1999. The programme supports a variety of activities encouraging transnational cooperation in the field of education, in particular exchange activities. Some 1,600 higher education institutions have applied for support from SOCRATES for the 1997-98 academic year, while schools have been equally eager to participate in the programme. Mrs. Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for education and training, noted the vital role which the programme has to play in developing high quality education, and preparing young people to live and work in the broader European context. In addition, she said, "it is making the EU an accessible, living reality for hundreds of thousands of people of all ages". The programme is also taking centre stage in the enlargement process, and at a cost of less than 0.2% of the Community budget.