Launched last year, the £2.5 million program is geared towards secondary schools students from disadvantaged backgrounds, although it will now be expanded to include primary school children.
“While we welcome the announcement, it must be backed up with a commitment to continue participation in Erasmus+”
According to Williamson, 138 schools have organised international exchanges through the program to “countries as far-ranging as Austria to Zambia”.
“For decades now, children across the world have been making overseas trips to meet their fellow pupils, making lifelong friendships along the way and having a much deeper understanding of what that country is about than anything they could ever learn in a textbook” he added.
Earlier this month, UK members of parliament voted against a clause which would have required the government to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the Erasmus+ program.
However, British prime minister Boris Johnson has downplayed fears, stating that “there is no threat to the Erasmus scheme” while speaking in the House of Commons last week.
In response to Williamson’s announcement, Erica Ramos, vice president of the National Union of Students said that NUS hope it indicates that the UK government will be negotiating for the UK’s continued membership of Erasmus+ as a priority.
“It makes no sense for the government to extend funding for exchange programs for school children while removing opportunities for them later in life by not committing to the continuation of Erasmus+ after we leave the European Union,” he said in a statement.
“All students should have access to programs that allow them to expand their cultural knowledge, exchange cultures and experience the world regardless of age.
“With Erasmus+ students in the UK generating £390 million for the UK economy each year, its essential that the government confirms its commitment to the UK’s continuing involvement in Erasmus as soon as possible.”
“Just over a week from now, the UK will leave the EU”
During his speech, Williamson also reiterated the government’s commitment to international collaboration and its education strategy, saying it aims to increase inbound international student numbers to 600,000 by 2030.
“The UK has always been an outward-looking and global nation, with a proud history and record when it comes to education and innovation,” he added.
“Just over a week from now, the UK will leave the EU. This is the perfect opportunity to march forward and be the global leader in educating children, young people and adults.”