“I don’t know a single person that’s done Erasmus that has afterwards thought it was a bad idea”
Rebecca Taylor, MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, talks to us about her views on the new Erasmus+ scheme and why she thinks the UK still needs to push more to raise awareness of study abroad schemes.
You studied Japanese and Management Studies here at Leeds. Did you have the chance to study abroad in Japan with your course?
Yes I did – I studied at the Kansai Foreign Language University and lived with a family over there while I studied. The immersion in Japanese language was absolutely vital to my course and it is quite an experience to go and live so far away when you’re 19 years old.
I’m actually still in contact with the family that I stayed with. In fact they came to visit me in London about a year ago.
Has this made you feel stronger about promoting study abroad in universities?
Definitely. When I was at Leeds I knew a lot of people doing non-language degrees who went on an Erasmus year. Leeds is actually one of the universities which pushes Erasmus the most. Obviously there’s a big modern languages school here which helps students gain the language skills they need to be able to study abroad.
So were you pleased with the outcome last Tuesday when the Erasmus+ scheme was approved?
Yes. I’m a member of a cross party group called the Youth Inter Group and we were pushing to increase the budget here because obviously the whole EU budget has been cut quite significantly. The increase in budget is around 40 per cent so it’s really quite significant because we in the liberal party were saying it’s not just about the size of the budget but it’s about where the money goes and we wanted a focus on jobs, innovation, growth including training and employment opportunities for students.
Why do you think the Erasmus+ scheme has been given an increase in budget while the EU budget overall has been cut by six per cent?
Because there was this focus on jobs, competitiveness and a massive recognition that youth unemployment and training opportunities are big problems. Actually the Erasmus scheme is one of the things that can help someone become more employable. One of the new things that the Erasmus+ is doing is this possibility to borrow money to do a masters degree which is backed by the European investment bank so this will allow people to take up low interest loans of up to 1,8000 Euros, so that’s usually enough to do a masters degree. This by no means replaces national loan schemes, but not all countries have those possibilities. One thing that we pushed for as the Youth Inter Group is for you not to have to pay back the loan until you’re working.
What would you say to students who look at the cost of living in many of the Erasmus countries and are put off by this large figure?
I think I’d say that it brings you a whole new experience and shows to an employer in the future that you’ve got a lot of get up and go. It shows that you’re very adaptable because there’s a lot of things you have to learn. I lived in Belgium and even though its not that far away and I spoke French, there were still lots of things I had to learn. If you’re going to the kind of university that attracts a lot of students from other countries, you’re going to meet a lot of other people and you’re going to make networks for the future. Everyone I know who does Erasmus has mates in other countries they can visit for holidays. It opens other opportunities for students.
How do you think UK universities, including Leeds, can push to achieve the 20 per cent participation level that the EU is aiming for?
Well I think Leeds is one of the highest. When I was here I knew a lot of other students who were not doing a language degree like me but who were doing a year of their course in another country. One of the things I would tell people is this is going to make you more employable. I think perhaps in the UK there is a perception that these years abroad are not valuable or they think that people speak English, so even though Leeds is very good at promoting it, other universities aren’t as good at pushing it. I don’t know a single person that’s done Erasmus that has afterwards thought it was a bad idea.
What things do you think there’s still left to do on this Erasmus+ programme and how would you like to see it move forward?
I think we’ve got a long way to go because for a start there was the threat that it was going to get cut, so there’s been a big fight on the budget, which we’ve done quite well out of, and pulling everything under the Erasmus brand is going to make the programme much simpler. Also, I think the masters degree loan is a really good innovation and giving this opportunity to other people is a really positive step. Pushing this programme more is extremely relevant, which perhaps the UK wasn’t doing that much, but now we’ve got more money hopefully we’ll get more people doing it in the future.
Click here to see our accompanying feature about the new Erasmus+ scheme.