Erasmus programme: How Brexit will impact study exchanges

29 March 2018 – VoxEurop

Despite both the EU and the UK claiming they have made "decisive steps" in setting up the transitional period that will follow Brexit, there is still much uncertainty about the future of British participation in the Erasmus, the European exchange programme, beyond 2020.

The EU and the UK announced they made “decisive steps”, in words of the EU negotiator Michel Barnier, setting the transition period to 31 December 2020.

But “we are not at the end of the road,” Barnier warned. Work remains.  

Issues such as the Irish border, the circulation of products or the Britain’s participation in Euratom, Europol, Eurojust,reports EUobserver, still need to be discussed. The list includes the successful research and educational programmes, such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus +.

“We cannot speculate on any possible future scenarios,” said the UK National Agency Erasmus +, “but we note the Government position is that UK participation in some EU programmes ‘promoting science, education and culture’ may continue”.

The document onthe financial settlement between the UK and the EU states that Britain “may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes of the new MFF post-2020 as a non-Member State”. And Erasmus+ is funded through the Multi-annual Financial Framework.

But the British Labour MEP Rory Palmer demands more action to the British authorities to “find a way to protect the rights of young people”.

"So far, the UK Government has offered warm words but little clarity,” he told to EDJNet, “and it means that young people are being left in the dark.”

According to Palmer, “the uncertainty surrounding the UK's participation in Erasmus is affecting young people who are planning their studies and do not know whether or not they will have the same opportunities as previous generations”.

“Reaching an agreement on keeping Erasmus could be a very easy win that would unlock more complex negotiations,” João Bacelar, the executive manager of the European Universities Foundation, told me.

And “even the staunchest UK politicians in favour of Brexit think that such collaboration should be safeguarded”, added the president of the European Association for International Education, Markus Laitinen.

But in Europe “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” as Michel Barnier warned while announcing the transition period. And although a deal would be reached, there will be a new Erasmus programme after December 2020. “So, all the agreements would have had to be renegotiated anyway,” said Laitinen to EDJNet.

France, Denmark and Malta, the highest “British dependable”

Britain is the third most popular country in the Erasmus programme, after Spain and Germany. The country received almost 64,000 students and academic staff in 2015; half of them from France, Germany and Spain,according to the last Erasmus+ Annual Report.

Those three countries are also the most famous among the Britons. More than 26,600 students and academic staff went abroad in 2015 under the Erasmus scheme.

But breaking down the number into countries, it states that some European partners have a bigger connection to the UK than others.

France leads the group with the highest proportion (14 per cent) of British students and academic staff under the Erasmus+ programme in its institutions.

While the dependence of British education centres is bigger in Malta and Denmark, where one out of four of their students chose a UK destination during 2015.

The Netherlands, Italy and Spain join the list of school staff training. 74 per cent, 39.5 per cent and 37.8 per cent, respectively, of the school staff sent abroad under the Erasmus scheme went to Great Britain.

The UK is, in fact, the top destination for school and Vocational Educational and Training staff to train abroad.

Should a Britain’s exit without a deal happened, it would have had consequences for both sides of the negotiating table. But the impact would be different.

“The loss of a partner as reputable as the UK is certainly not something we are happy about, but it’s not as if it will grind the programme to a halt. Flows will adjust over time”, said João Bacelar, who also pointed out a “cooperation with many other English-speaking countries”.

“The impact is difficult to assess”, said Markus Laitinen, as the future is still uncertain. “For EU students the fear might be that they will be subject to higher, overseas fees in the future”, he said.

But for Britain, a Brexit without a deal would leave it out of the 33 programme countries group. The UK would then participate in the Erasmus scheme under the status as “partner country”, which includes all the countries in the world and whose budget allocated for this programme is much lower.

Fund reduction in British institutions

The United Kingdom was the 5th country with the largest proportion of the Erasmus+ annual budget in 2017 (7.2 per cent), after Germany (11.8 per cent), Italy (10.4 per cent), France (9.7 per cent), and Spain (8.8 per cent).

And the programme will be strengthened for the period 2021-2027. The European Parliament is planning a better future for the mobility programme.

One of its proposals will duplicate the budget, growing from 14.7 to 30 billion euro. The second one, more optimistic, will multiply by 6 the previous number, up to 90 billion euro.

The main beneficiaries will be the higher education institutions, which get half of the Erasmus+ funding. In 2017, the British higher education centres got 67.5 million euro.

But higher institutions only represent 16 per cent of the applicants for Erasmus funds in the UK. Around 40 per cent of them are schools and high schools whose funding go to general education and vocational training projects.

International partnership and mobility “impact on the quality of the UK’s education, training and youth systems,” said the UK national agency, as well as “improve opportunities for socio-economically disadvantage groups” and build long relationships, the agency adds.

“We cannot allow Brexit to put that at risk”, said the MEP Rory Palmer. “After all, many young people did not get to vote on the UK's membership of the EU, and it is not fair for them to have their rights and opportunities weakened.”

João Bacelar agreed. “It would be cruel to penalise young people, who have broadly opposed Brexit, to suffer such a setback,” he said.

“Cooperation in education is as important as cooperation on pharmaceutical regulation, if not more,” warned João Bacelar.

“Until 2020 the focus really should be on joining forces to ensure UK remains on Erasmus” what would be “a clear win-win scenario,” he said.

This article is published in association with the European Data Journalism Network.

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