In December 2017, it was confirmed that the UK will continue to take part in the Erasmus student exchange programme until at least the end of 2020. But what exactly is Erasmus? What does the future hold for the scheme in a post-Brexit Britain? And how might it affect the University of Kent?
The Erasmus+ Programme is the European Union’s flagship mobility programme enabling participants to study, work, volunteer, teach and train abroad. The scheme sees students study in another European country for between three and 12 months as part of their degree. In the 30 years since its inception, an estimated 9 million people will have taken part in the Erasmus+ exchange programme, with 600,000 of them coming from the UK.
The University of Kent has participated in the programme since its inception in 1987, with the University being one of the first higher education institutions selected to participate in the pilot scheme that predated the program. Kent now sits among the Top 10 higher education institutions in England in terms of the number of students sent on Erasmus+ study placements.
Last month, Theresa May agreed a draft deal with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which would mean the UK would continue its funding of EU projects, including Erasmus, until the end of this EU budget period in 2020. Whether it is involved long term is among issues likely to be discussed during the next stage of Brexit negotiations.
Universities has been given further assurance that the scheme will be replaced by another EU mobility programme, the details of which are still yet to be announced.
The programme was named after the Dutch philosopher and catholic monk Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, known as an opponent of dogmatism. Throughout his life, he lived and worked in many places in Europe to expand his knowledge and gain new insights. The scheme prides itself as a platform to give students a taste of what it is like to study abroad, learning new skills and gaining fresh opportunities among the way.
Jan Lowe, International Partnerships Officer at the University of Kent, told InQuire that the Erasmus program remains particularly important to the ethos of the University of Kent and that the scheme showcases many benefits to those participating in it.
“There is evidence to demonstrate that students who participate in Erasmus+ graduate with higher academic grades, higher salaries upon graduation and increased likelihood of employment.
“As the UK’s European university our engagement with the Erasmus+ programme is very important to us. It provides opportunities for students and staff to add an international dimension to their studies and careers, which we believe can only be a benefit to them personally, academically and professionally.
However, the UK’s ‘red line’ on free movement of labour may prevent its students from participating in the Erasmus exchange programme. Whether it is involved long term is among the many issues likely to be discussed during the next stage of Brexit negotiations, where issues such as mobility rights as well as Britain’s continuation in the Erasmus program will come up.
Lowe told us that she has been given assurance from the government on the future of the Erasmus+ scheme, but maintains that she still remains optimistic for what Brexit might bring.
We have received assurances from the British Council that “in principle the UK will continue to benefit from all EU programmes, including Erasmus+, until the end of the current budget plan”.
A number of national organisations as well as individual universities are lobbying to ensure that the UK can also remain in the EU’s successor mobility programme to Erasmus+.
“In the worst case scenario if this is not possible we are already working closely with our European partners to ensure that alternative opportunities for student mobility will be possible.
“It still remains to be seen what changes may occur once the UK ceases to be an EU member state. It is possible that the UK will continue to participate fully in such a programme but we do not yet know what the future holds. We remain optimistic.”
The uncertainty surrounding Erasmus has fuelled other political parties to hold the government to account in protecting the scheme. The Liberal Democrats have backed a motion calling on the government to make a clear commitment to protecting the student exchange scheme, which according to the party, “has benefited over 200,000 UK students since it was set up in 1987.” Almost 10,000 people have backed a petition launched by the party to save Erasmus that was delivered to Downing Street and European leaders.