In just over a month, my son, who is an undergraduate student at the University of Surrey (reading biochemistry) heads out to Stockholm, which will be his home for the next 10 months or so. He has been fortunate enough to gain a place as a work placement student at the world renowned Karolinska Institute. This has all been made possible by the ErasmusPlus programme, who will also provide grant funding.
For those people unfamiliar with the scheme, the Erasmus Programme is a European Union student exchange scheme established in 1987. Since its foundation, some 3 million EU students (including 200,000 from the UK) have taken part, with their grants paid for by EU funding. Under the scheme, students from one EU country have the opportunity to spend up to a year either studying or carrying out research at a university in another EU country.
The benefits of the Erasmus Programme
If I look at my son’s situation, the benefits of the programme are clear for all to see,
- He will be undertaking a traineeship in neuroimmunology at a university ranked 7th in the world for Life Sciences and Medicine
- He will have the opportunity to live and work in one of Europe’s most vibrant capital cities and be exposed to a new culture.
- He will interact both socially and scientifically with people from across Europe and beyond
- He will have the opportunity to learn a new language
He, and thousands of students like him, are being given a fantastic, life enhancing opportunity to complement their academic studies. They will complete their degrees as much more rounded individuals and with a cv that makes them more employable, or with the ability to undertake further studies in the international marketplace. It is clear why EU member states (and some countries outside of the EU) have been enthusiastic participants in the Erasmus Programme.
The UK’s participation in the Erasmus scheme after Brexit
The UK has been one of those enthusiastic participants since 1987 but sadly, next year may be the last time we sent students to, and receive students from, other EU universities. The triggering of Article 50 (the Brexit clause) leaves a huge question mark over the future of the UK’s participation in the Erasmus scheme once we exit the EU. It is not just an issue for UK students who want to study in an EU country; currently there are over 27,000 EU students studying in the UK, with their fees being paid by the EU. It is possible for the UK to negotiate a funding arrangement (much in the way that Norway and Iceland do) but to date, we have made no commitment. Indeed, if we look at the ErasmusPlus UK website, we see the following statement, “We cannot speculate on any possible future scenarios following the UK’s exit from the EU (also known as Brexit), but we note the Government position is that UK participation in some EU programmes may continue subject to the negotiation.” Hardly words of comfort.
“I hope UK students can continue to participate in the ErasmusPlus program and the reverse. We should avoid a trade off on this”
Dr Ceri Jones, one of the founding fathers of the Erasmus scheme was quoted in the UK press saying, “Erasmus will still flourish in Europe, but UK universities have been a powerful magnet, because of the English language. I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about”.
I would therefore like to like to repeat the words of the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator who has called on the UK government to retain membership of the Erasmus student exchange programme when he tweeted the following, “I hope UK students can continue to participate in the ErasmusPlus program and the reverse. We should avoid a trade off on this”.
The plea to David Davis (the UK Chief Brexit Negotiator) and his friends is as follows. Give us some certainty over this, and make a clear statement that the UK intends to continue to participate in the excellent Erasmus scheme.