The PON scholarship allocates funding of EU45K per maximum group of 15 students per high school, with the participants chosen via an internal competition in schools. Groups will undertake a three-week language programme with a total of 60 hours of classroom tuition. Each course must include an entry and exit exam, as well as an external examination.
A major change in the 2017/18 funding is that participants must have a minimum certified level of B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. All countries that participate in the EU's Erasmus Plus programme can be chosen as destination countries.
Henry Tolley, Head of Business Development at Trinity College London, which provides English language exams for PON courses, told StudyTravel Magazine that the higher entry requirements were likely to produce even greater demand for English language PON programmes in 2017/18.
Henry added that Trinity College was also able to offer PON examinations in the UK, Ireland and Malta where several English language centres are able to support the exam.
Italy is traditionally the largest source country for ELT students for the three destinations, all of which are current participants in Erasmus Plus.
The total funding for all elements of the PON scheme is EU3 billion, which should allow for around EU90-to-EU100 million for study abroad elements.
For the first time, the PON scheme has been spread across the whole of Italy, with the five southern regions of Campania, Calabria, Sicily, Puglia and Basilicata receiving the majority of the funding and the remainder spread across the remainder of Italy.
Henry said the reallocation of the funding should allow for some agents in the north of Italy to become involved in PON for the first time. All PON bookings should be made through an agency to comply with Italian regulations on liability insurance for groups, as Italian agency association IALCA advised in a special seminar organised by Trinity College London and the British Council two years ago.
Agents can sometimes provide part payment to the schools in advance, Henry said, as funding is not released by the government until after the group has returned.
The deadline for Italian high schools to apply for approval for a funding scholarship is in early May and successful applicants should receive approval of their applications by May 26th.
By Matthew Knott