As part of the government spending review 2020 – outlined by chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak on November 25 – the government has allocated an undisclosed amount of funding to “prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+” when the UK leaves the European Union in 2021.
“It is absolutely consistent with the government’s ambitions to be an outward looking globally-engaged nation”
The cash – a section of the Department for Education’s £2.9 billion allocation – will pay for a domestic alternative in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+ and “fund outward global education mobilities”.
The government has said it will set out further details in due course.
Director of Universities UK International Vivienne Stern said the spending review announcement was “a very important welcome step” in committing to a plan should the UK not secure association to Erasmus+.
“I want to use this opportunity to thank the UK government – in very difficult times when we know that public finances are under enormous strain – for making that commitment to funding opportunities for UK students to spend time abroad,” she said during UKKi’s Go International conference 2020.
“I think it is absolutely consistent with the government’s ambitions for us to be an outward looking globally-engaged nation. And I think that commitment… is something that we should celebrate.”
President and vice-chancellor of Cardiff University Colin Riordan, said the announcement shows “that the government has actually been paying attention to what our asks are, what it is we think the new framework should look like”.
“The UK government’s policy – the plan A – is to be open to considering participation in some elements of the next Erasmus+ program, providing it’s in the UK’s interest to do so, and we will have to see how that judgement is made or rather what the outcome of that judgement will be,” he said.
“There is still quite a lot to be cleared up over the potential domestic replacement program – immigration requirements, a timeline for implementation, and a range of other things – but at least we do have it there and that is really great comfort.”
“We don’t know the details yet, we don’t know the scale. We don’t know some of the things that [universities] really need in order to start putting plans in place,” Stern noted.
However, institutions need to “talk to your perspective partners about what would happen if [this] plan B is the scenario that we end up living, with a national scheme to support mobility rather than participation in Erasmus”, she continued.
“We shouldn’t as a sector waste any time in putting in place, at least in principle, agreements with counterparts and not only in Europe but around the world, to ensure that when the situation is clarified… we’re able to move quickly to implement plans for a national replacement, if that is in fact, necessary.”
Earlier in November, Universities UK released a briefing paper that highlighted that the Department for Education had advised its ‘UK International Educational Mobilities Scheme’ domestic alternative will be “ambitious, UK-wide and global in its reach”.
UUK noted that urgent questions remained on the program’s design, and the government should confirm the structure, funding levels and framework of the proposed national alternative to Erasmus+ as soon as possible in 2020.
Other questions include the scale of available funding and when detail of the scheme will be made available to universities “to ensure that there is no break in mobility funding for 2021/22”.
“We always have said and we still believe that participation in Erasmus is a preferable scenario to creating our own national scheme,” Stern added.
UUKi has emphasised to the government the economic benefits of Erasmus students coming to the UK (adding £420m to the economy in 2017), she explained.
“We’ve also pointed out to our European counterparts that there’s no suggestion so far on what the government said that a UK alternative scheme would fund inbound mobility and that would create some really significant challenges for European students who want to spend some time in the UK,” Stern said.
“We’re also saying to institutions, if that conclusion is not reached, be ready”
“We are still urging European partners to press the commission through their own governments for compromise on Erasmus to bring an agreement about. But we’re also saying to institutions, if that conclusion is not reached, be ready, because the fact that the government has a national alternative scheme, ready to go means you need to be ready to go too.”
The job for the UK sector, Riordan added, “will be to do whatever we can to make sure that if there is a transition from one scheme to another, we keep that as smooth as possible and, as we always do, keep the interests of our students at the forefronts of our minds at all times”.