"Erasmus schemes include in not just university students, but also those taking up volunteering, teaching sports training and other staff work, and it is these other aspects of the scheme that are most at risk to government policy."
Thirty years after the first EU-wide exchange schemes were first introduced, Britain’s membership and participation is in serious doubt.
Erasmus+ and its predecessor schemes have been truly continental in scope. Since 1987 roughly 2 million people have gone through one of its programs, 600,000 of which have been from the UK.
With a UK budget alone of 507 million Euros, Erasmus is an educational scheme with a reach across Europe. Its schemes cover most aspects of education, training, youth and sport organisations across every sector of lifelong learning. Erasmus not only provides important experience but also help improve overall academic attainment. Surveys have shown that 81% of UK students who studied aboard under the scheme go on to achieve either a first class and upper second in their degree, compared to 72% among all students.
But while Erasmus has been a great positive for the UK, and will be maintained until 2020, a number of questions over its continuation post Britain’s exit from the European Union loom large.
Last year the government made assurances that it will negotiate continued “access” to the scheme after this period, but it is the definition of access that has Universities and the British council which administers Erasmus in the UK deeply concerned.
In her Florence speech last September, the Prime Minister said that the government’s preferred position is that the UK would participate in some EU programmes that promote science, education and culture, and that the government might consider participating in the Multi-Annual Financial Framework, or MFF, through which Erasmus Plus is funded. Something which provides no assurances regarding the UKs full involvement in the scheme.
Erasmus schemes include in not just university students, but also those taking up volunteering, teaching sports training and other staff work, and it is these other aspects of the scheme that are most at risk to government policy. There are been suggestions that the government might opt-out of the staff scheme section of Erasmus, as those coming to work in the UK would be subject to any new immigration system, something which risks the integrity and viability of any future scheme.
According to data from the British Council, there are over 2,200 UK University Staff, 1,600 school staff, 500 vocational education officers and 300 adult education staff who have benefited from professional development programs abroad since Erasmus began in its current format in 2014. It has also been noted that as many of these schemes are often part of a wider program with other schemes, the exclusion of staff could risk having a negative impact on the quality and accessibility of the other parts of the scheme.
If the UK does leave Erasmus Plus, we might end up following the example of Switzerland who were suspended from the scheme following a successful 2014 referendum to enact strict immigration quotas. The country has since adopted its own domestic continuation of the scheme called the Swiss European Mobility Programme (SEMP), however this scheme has been funded entirely by the Swiss government to the tune of 25.1million (£20million), something which the British government might be reluctant to set up from scratch. Another option would be maintaining full access to the scheme outside of the European Union, as do Norway, Lichtenstein and Turkey.
The renewal of Erasmus after 2020 is currently being negotiated by the European countries, and there has been little if any UK involvement in these discussions so far. The British government can’t afford to duck this issue, which risks putting the openness and vibrancy of Britain’s higher education sector at stake.
Nathaneal is a Young Fabian. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanealSansam