The Erasmus programme is a highly respected scheme that enriches the student experience for tens of thousands of people every year. The programme allows students from the UK to spend a year studying at prestigious universities throughout Europe. Conversely, students from throughout the EU are also able to spend a year studying at a UK university for up to one year.
However, the future of the programme has been called into doubt in the wake of the EU referendum. The Erasmus scheme website issued an announcement stating: “It is not clear at this early stage what the impact of the recent UK vote to leave the EU will have on the Erasmus Programme.” If freedom of movement between the UK and the EU is revoked, it is difficult to imagine how the Erasmus programme could continue to operate as normal.
The Erasmus experience
The programme was established in 1987 and now has over 4,000 higher education institutions signed up. Since 2013, more than 2 million students have taken up the opportunity to study abroad for between three months and a year to add value to their student experience. The ‘Erasmus Experience’ has established itself as a cultural phenomenon, and many participants note the value of being part of such a recognisable alumni.
The vote to leave the European Union could now have a devastating impact on the Erasmus scheme if UK students and institutions are excluded from the programme. There are currently over 27,000 international students on the scheme in the UK, so it could deliver a financial blow to UK universities. At a time when UK universities are already struggling in the face of increased tuition fees and decreased funding, the loss of this important revenue stream could be damaging.
Support from Scotland
The Scottish National Party has already spoken out in support of the scheme, stating that preserving the Erasmus scheme for future generations should be a vital component of the Brexit negotiations. MSP James Dornan said: “The Erasmus programme has been hugely beneficial to our universities and students over the years, and it is absolutely vital that the UK Government commits to protecting it following the Brexit vote.
“Our students also benefit massively from the opportunity to take a year abroad in Europe, giving them the chance to experience new cultures and ways of learning, whilst becoming more open to different ways of life. The UK Government must make it clear that the Erasmus programme will be protected – so that our universities and our students can continue to benefit and participate in the fantastic scheme.”
In response to these concerns, the UK Universities and Science Minister said: “Many of these questions will need to be considered as part of a wider discussion about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, but where we can provide further information we will do so. The UK remains a member of the EU, and we continue to meet our obligations and receive relevant funding.”
Follow Switzerland’s lead
This isn’t the first time a country has been excluded from the programme as a result of changes to immigration policy. In 2015, Switzerland was suspended as a participant following a vote to limit immigration to the country from other EU nations. Following the suspension of the programme, Switzerland developed the Swiss-European Mobility Programme which offers bilateral exchange programmes similar to the Erasmus programme. It is hoped that the UK will either be able to negotiate a way to remain a core part of the Erasmus exchange programme, or develop its own exchange programme similar to the Swiss-European Mobility Programme.
An uncertain future
For any students currently studying on the programme in the UK or across Europe, there is no immediate call for concern. However, anyone starting a three or four-year degree programme and planning to spend a year abroad might have to reconsider their plans, as the scheme might not be available to them by the time comes to head overseas. The Erasmus scheme’s UK director, Ruth Sinclair-Jones said: “in the long term, it’s an unknown situation. We will continue with our plans until 2017 but after that we have to wait”. This will offer little comfort to students who may have to consult with an immigration service to even consider studying abroad.
Alternatives to Erasmus
There are other exchange programmes available, such as the ISEP (International Student Exchange Programs), although this non-profit educational community has fewer participating colleges and universities. With only 328 colleges and universities around the world, the choices are limited compared to the Erasmus scheme.
The appeal of the Erasmus programme is that students pay the same fees as they would in their home country, meaning that students can take advantage of overseas education without the associated higher fees. Fees for international students in the UK can run as high as £24,000 per year. For students from the USA, this can sometimes still be comparable cheaper than studying in their home country, as many degree programmes in the UK and Europe are shorter (three years, rather than four years). This can lead to significant savings when you factor in the savings from an entire year of tuition fees and living costs.