The Government has refused to comment on the possibility of future students not being able to take part in the European Union student exchange programme following Brexit.
Following a repeated refusal to comment on the future of students being able to take part in the Erasmus+ study programme, there are growing fears that Erasmus may be scrapped as part of the Brexit negotiations. More than 4,000 universities participate in Erasmus+, with 37 countries involved.
Erasmus was founded in 1987 by the European Union to help provide funding for students in member states to study abroad. The current programme allows students to study free for a year, backed by EU funding. Since its inception, nearly four million students have taken part in the programme, with the number of UK students more than doubling between 2007 and 2014. In 2015, 15,500 UK students participated, with another 7,000 staff also studying abroad. Roughly £95 million each year is raised for UK universities by Erasmus.
Jamie Ali, LUU Community Officer, wrote to David Jones MP, the Minister for Exiting the European Union, about the safety of the Erasmus+ programme. Jones replied that: “The Prime Minister has been clear that Britain will remain truly global – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too.”
Jones went on to say: “The Government is considering all options in relation to student mobility. The referendum result does not immediately affect students studying in the EU or those currently on Erasmus+”.
Erasmus+ is seen by many as an incredibly important programme not only to improve studies but to initiate cross-cultural dialogue and the creation of a cosmopolitan, pan-European identity. The EU’s Erasmus impact study in 2014 found that Erasmus+ participants are far more likely to find employment quickly, with students on the scheme seeing 23% less likelihood of unemployment overall.
Jamie Ali found the lack of information on future possibilities for new students to study Erasmus daunting. Speaking to The Gryphon, he said that “First year language students and current applicants here in Leeds and across the country can’t afford the uncertainty of Erasmus being on the table”.
The Community Officer went onto speak about the importance of Erasmus for working class students. “Without the support of Erasmus, working class students like me couldn’t afford this opportunity. It’s been really productive working with Hilary Benn’s office on this, but it’s just a shame that the best this Tory government can offer concerned students on Brexit is simply more platitudes.”
Even before the referendum result, prominent figures expressed concern about the possibility of the end of Erasmus for UK students. Ruth Sinclair-Jones, leader of the Erasmus UK programme, said last year that that: “We do really want there to be prioritisation on the Erasmus Plus because it is important – it has a direct impact on the students and the economy”.
James Rowe, a second year Spanish and Business student who is due to take part in Erasmus next year said that “If Brexit were to take this opportunity away from future students, I feel like this is taking steps backwards rather than aiming to produce graduates that can easily adapt in a multicultural environment, country and world.”
“I’m really worried about what will happen if Erasmus is scrapped, I won’t be able to afford to do a year abroad.” said Zac Harwood, a first year SPLAS student.
A University spokesperson said that “more students from Leeds take the opportunity to study abroad than in almost any other UK university and we are committed to growing these numbers further.
“There is some uncertainty around how we will work with the Erasmus programme in future and we are doing what we can to clarify the position, while also working on the expansion of our larger global opportunity programme of which Erasmus forms a part.”