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UK: Brexit raises concerns about Erasmus+ future

Evidence submitted to the UK government’s inquiry about Brexit’s impact on higher education has raised concerns about the future of the UK’s participation in the Erasmus+ programme, and pointed to a need to maintain international cooperation and exchange in the HE sector.

A British Council survey found 74% of respondents aged 18-24 want to see international exchange schemes, such as Erasmus+, maintained post-Brexit. Photo: Erasmus+

74% of respondents aged 18-24 want to see international exchange schemes, such as Erasmus+, maintained post-Brexit

The impact of exiting the European Union on higher education inquiry, which was launched in September last year, received 191 written submissions of evidence from organisations and stakeholders in the UK HE sector.

Concerns were raised over the impacts of Brexit on students and staff at higher education institutions, ensuring the UK remains competitive in the European higher education landscape, as well as the future of the Erasmus+ programme.

Universities UK, the country’s representative body for universities, called on the government in its submission to “prioritise negotiating continued participation in the Erasmus+ programme and its successor”.

“We are very concerned about the risks posed to UK student mobility”

“The UK government should at the same time consider further domestic policy interventions to support UK students and staff to gain the international skills and experience necessary to support the UK as a global trading nation,” it added. “Including by setting quantitative targets regarding the percentage of UK students and researchers accessing international opportunities.”

The National Union of Students suggested in its submission that the British government “seek continued access to this vital funding stream”.

“However, if this is not possible, then a replacement fund should be established to support the mobility of UK students and staff in Europe and beyond, as it is their understanding of international partnerships, culture and history that will be essential to creating new relationships in the future,” the union said.

In its submission to the government’s inquiry, the Erasmus Student Network said: “We are very concerned about the risks posed to UK student mobility,” as a result of Brexit.

With the future of Erasmus+ unclear after 2020, “we hope that the UK will continue to participate actively and fully in European mobility initiatives,” the network said.

Erasmus+ provides funds for 16,000 UK HE students and 8,500 VET students to study or work abroad each year.

Five thousand young people also benefit from a volunteer experience abroad, and 2,200 UK HE staff are funded to train or work outside of the UK.

The British Council’s submission expressed concern that while there has been no immediate change in participating in the Erasmus+ programme after the June vote, “there is uncertainty around the future of the scheme following the UK’s exit from the EU, as this will depend on the exit negotiations”.

A recent British Council survey revealed widespread support from the public for preserving international exchange schemes, which found that 74% of respondents aged 18-24 want to see international exchange schemes, such as Erasmus+, maintained post-Brexit.

“To lose participation would be a huge loss to a generation that obviously values such opportunities”

The benefits brought to the UK through Erasmus+ cannot be underestimated, commented Ruth Sinclair-Jones, director of the Erasmus+ UK National Agency.

“To lose participation would be a huge loss to a generation that obviously values such opportunities – and the international experience that they bring,” she said.

“We must do everything we can to ensure the Erasmus+ scheme – and other similar opportunities – are protected as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.”

The inquiry was set up by the Education Committee last September, looking specifically at the effects of Brexit on higher education.

“There are fears that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will have a negative impact on higher education,” said Neil Carmichael, chair of the education committee.

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