After the UK leaves the EU in 2019, it remains unclear whether or how the UK will continue to participate in Erasmus programs.
“At the moment the keyword is uncertainty”
But although the UK government has agreed to underwrite funding for projects under the current framework, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, full association to its successor program has not yet been guaranteed and details of UK research funding post-Brexit are lacking.
Representing The Russell Group, Gail Armistead said that while the UK government has provided some funding reassurance, the potential of a no-deal scenario is bringing to light questions about students already overseas on exchange programs.
“We have students who started courses in September who are planning to be in Europe in 2020/21, and at the moment the keyword is uncertainty,” she told the committee.
“We are trying to reassure students that we will continue to support them and deliver the exchanges and experiences they are anticipating, but greater clarity on how the underwrite funding would work, the practicalities of it would be hugely beneficial.”
Echoing this, John Latham representing the Association of Colleges added that European education partners are beginning to “hedge their bets” when it comes to partnering on projects.
“[Partners] at the moment are asking questions and are, perhaps, looking elsewhere,” he said.
“Although the [funding] guarantee is in place, it doesn’t stop [partner institutions] erring on the side of caution… and in my experience, we have been invited on to fewer projects this year.”
Speaking for the NUS, vice president (Higher Education) Amatey Doku pointed out that the underwritten funding doesn’t extend far enough for students starting in the 2018 academic year.
“If the idea behind the underwrite was to reassure students, I’m not sure that is being done,” he told the committee.
“A no-deal scenario would be catastrophic. If the immigration status of students, practitioners and academics change suddenly – which everyone expects it to in no-deal scenario – it’s unclear to me how the fallout from that could be resolved quickly and seamlessly enough to continue these programs.”
The current Erasmus+ program has supported 128,000 UK participants since 2014, while the UK is also a popular study destination for participants.
When asked about the general feeling among EU member states for the UK’s continuation into the next phase of Erasmus, Armistead said relevant national agencies and bodies have so far been “overwhelmingly supportive”.
“The message is very clear; they very much want us to be involved,” she added.
But the question as to how that mood would shift if immigration status for EU students looking to study in the UK becomes dramatically different was a point that Doku was quick to point out.
“If you think about the hoops and hurdles that non-EU students have to go through [before coming to the UK], I think if we suddenly transition to much tougher rules, we would start to lose some of that capital we have in these conversations.”
Readers can view a full recording of the debate via Parliament.tv here.