Written by Laura May Bailey
The Brexit agreement has led to one major change that will affect students and researchers across the UK and Europe: the end of Britain’s participation in the Erasmus scheme.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson dubbed it a “good deal for the whole of Europe,” while Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, claimed they had reached a “fair” and “balanced” deal after a “long and winding road.”
Britain has been a member of the Erasmus programme since the 1980s. The scheme gives grants to students to study in partner European countries for a year or semester abroad, as well as facilitating research and teaching.
Since 2014, the Erasmus scheme has seen over 1 billion Euros of funding given to over 900,000 UK students. In 2017, over 16,000 UK students benefitted from Erasmus funding and 31,000 Europeans came to Britain.
The reaction from ex-Erasmus students, researchers, and the House of Lords European Committee is overwhelmingly one of condemnation.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, described the possibility of withdrawing from the scheme as “cultural vandalism.” The House of Lords report on Erasmus, and its partner research programme Horizon, strongly and unanimously agreed that “it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility.”
It was also concluded that, while launching a new UK scheme for studying abroad could be beneficial, this should definitively not be prioritised over cooperation and exchange with fellow European countries right “on our doorstep.”
Both this report and Boris Johnson’s firm statement in January 2020 that “there is no threat to the Erasmus scheme, and we will continue to participate in it,” gave many hope that Brexit would not affect this vital forum for cross-European and cross-cultural participation.
Nevertheless, the end of the UK in Erasmus was met with satisfaction from some, such as The Telegraph’s Madeline Grant, who saw Erasmus as ‘European empire-building’, blurring national lines and creating a pan-European identity.
Details of the proposed replacement study abroad ‘Turing Scheme’ describe £100 million of funding for 35,000 students to participate in international exchange.
However, fears have been raised that such a scheme would not help students from disadvantaged background or with family commitments to the same degree. Studying, living, and travelling to European countries, as opposed to other continents, pose fewer time and financial requirements.
The Erasmus scheme’s funding runs in cycles, with the next one 2021 – 2027. Therefore, even if the UK wishes to re-join, this may have to wait until the beginning of a new cycle, leaving six years of UK students without the same opportunities as thousands of their forebearers.
Laura May Bailey is a master’s student of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. As well as having a passion for museums, she is also interested in traveling, history, and literature. You can find her on Instagram here: @laura_may_bee