“Faced with Boris Johnson’s brutal and unnecessary decision, Ireland has already generously taken the lead in committing to finance Erasmus students in Northern Ireland,” he said, referring to the Irish government’s announcement that it would put up funding for the program in Northern Ireland.
“The Welsh and Scottish governments repeatedly argued to London the priority importance they attach to continued access to the program,” he continued.
“The Welsh and Scottish governments repeatedly argued to London the priority importance they attach to continued access to the program”
“Both governments should now jointly call on the UK Parliament to reconsider and reject the rationale for this damaging decision, putting first the future of our young people and the interests of the four nations.”
His concerns about the cost of losing the program – which is due to be replaced by a slimmed down version called the Turing scheme – have been echoed in the UK’s devolved nations who argue their expressed desire to stay in the program has been ignored.
The Scottish government said in December that it had “sought repeated assurance that the UK government will prioritise continued association to the program” and “that any replacement scheme will provide funding on a par with the amounts historically secured under Erasmus+ and that all those who currently benefit from the program will be supported”.
“The loss of Erasmus is huge blow. This is simply unacceptable and we are looking at alternative options,” said Scottish universities minister Richard Lochhead.
“After years of discussions and meetings, the UK government has made these decisions irrespective of the views of the Devolved Administrations. We found out from media reports more details of the UK’s alternative scheme which is a watered down and less well funded version of Erasmus and it’s not even an exchange program because there is no support for visits to Scotland.”
“The UK Government has made these decisions irrespective of the views of the Devolved Administrations”
An early day motion tabled on December 30 in Parliament by 45 Scottish National Party MPs and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas expressed its “deep regret” at the decision and urged the government to reverse course.
A petition to the Senedd in Wales to restore Erasmus+ was rejected on the grounds that “it asks the Senedd to do something that it is not able to do”. It did however suggest signing an alternative petition as “the Welsh Government may be able to establish its own international exchange scheme for students”.
According to Erasmus statistics, from 2014-2018 there were 4,846 UK Erasmus projects and 167,000 UK participants, including 7,081 participants in Wales and 13,957 in Scotland. The UK’s top and third biggest sending universities participating in Erasmus+ were the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, both in Scotland.
In late December, the government in the Republic of Ireland said it would fund Erasmus+ programs in Northern Ireland. From 2014-2018, Northern Ireland had 6,696 Erasmus participants and was awarded funding of €38.8M. The new scheme will cost €2.1 million annually.
“At Queen’s University Belfast, we warmly welcome the recent announcement that Northern Ireland students will be able to continue to access the Erasmus scheme,” said David Jones, the university’s pro vice-chancellor for education and students.
“Over the years, many local students have been enriched by their Erasmus experience and we are pleased they can continue to avail of the opportunities offered through this student exchange program.”
Ulster University further added that “Erasmus has been invaluable for student mobility”. Its current Erasmus+ mobility funding will remain in place until 2022, after which they “will consider the available opportunities for continued exchange and mobility for our students”.
Elsewhere, the Erasmus Student Network is also disappointed with the UK leaving the program, particularly due to the one-way nature of its replacement and other concerns about the limits of the Turing scheme.
“Mobility is by nature reciprocal. UK universities will lose culturally and intellectually by not having short term international students in their universities,” said its president Kostis Giannidis.
“In addition, it was estimated that in 2018 the financial benefit of incoming Erasmus+ students was £420 million. Therefore, it is not only a cultural but also a financial loss for the UK.”
“It is not only a cultural but also a financial loss for the UK”
Giannidis further argued that “the UK’s decision to send UK students only to the top universities around the world… creates a notion of elitism among higher education”.
“Student mobility is not only about the academic merits but also about discovering new cultures, learning new languages and expanding your horizons,” he explained.
“UK students won’t have the same cultural or linguistic gains by going to Australia or New Zealand as they would have by going somewhere with more diverse cultural background.
“We hear also very often the argument that Turing will be a global program compared to Erasmus+ which is very misleading,” he added.
“Erasmus+ is since 2015 a global program and in the period 2021-2027, its international dimension is planned to be increased significantly. In the period 2015 -2019, around 205,000 students and academic staff took part in the international dimension of the Erasmus+ program.”
Additional reporting by Will Nott.