Brexit comes with an Erasmus exit, despite the UK-EU deal. This decision is ending the UK participation to a scheme that started in 1987 and offered millions of young people the opportunity to travel across Europe in student exchanges, work experience and apprenticeships.
The programme was named after the philosopher, theologian and humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1465-1536), considered one of the greatest scholars of the northern Renaissance. He lived and worked in several parts of Europe, in quest of the knowledge, experience and insights which only such contacts with other countries could bring. He left his fortune to the University of Basel, thus becoming a precursor of mobility grants.
The UK Government has also chosen to withdraw from the European Territorial Cooperation programmes (including European Solidarity Corps Programme) but the agreement keeps the UK's participation in Horizon Europe (a planned 7-year European Union scientific research initiative).
The programme's success has helped to shape higher education in Europe and led to the:
For the former scholars of this programme, which is considered the most successful education programme in Europe, as well as for many young people that were planning to join in the future, this is the end of an era.
The writer and philosopher Julian Baggini talks about his experience as an Erasmus student in an article from The Guardian:
"In 1989, I was one of the earliest British students to participate in the scheme, which had begun two years earlier. Confusingly, I spent my autumn term in the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
Now that six months or more travelling the world on a gap year is the (albeit suspended) norm, 10 weeks on the other side of the Channel may seem modest in comparison. But Erasmus allowed for a depth of engagement with other countries that no amount of carefree backpacking can equal.
My first inkling of this came when we were invited out for beers with some of our new Dutch peers. One asked me what my special interests in philosophy were. I was thrown. No one back home would ever ask such an earnest question about your undergraduate studies. [...] Other Erasmus students will have had different epiphanies. By becoming embedded in foreign universities, we see not only what is valuable in cultures we are often quicker to parody than to understand, but what is strange in ourselves."
John O'Brennan, a professor of European studies at the University of Maynooth in Ireland, leads a European integration program financed by Erasmus. He was interviewed by The New York Times about the fact that the UK is saying good-bye to the Erasmus programme:
"Erasmus opens people's horizons and broadens their conceiving of the world, if that's not the embodiment of the European ideal, I don't know what it is."
While a new scheme that is to replace the programme in the UK should take shape, in Northern Ireland students will continue to participate in the Erasmus scheme under an arrangement with the Irish government.
This has been a hot topic since a few years ago, when experts were trying to foresee what would be the impact of Brexit on the Erasmus initiative. Here are some of the conclusions of a report on Brexit and its effects on the Erasmus Programme, published in February 2019 by The House of Lords and the European Union Committee:
"The Erasmus programme has played a significant role in facilitating the international mobility of people studying and working in the fields of education, training, youth, and sport in the UK. The programme offers unparalleled financial support and flexibility to enable people from lower income backgrounds, and those with medical needs or disabilities, to take part in educational exchanges. The Government should seek to ensure the UK remains part of this important initiative by seeking full association to the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme.
The cost of participating in the 2021–2027 Erasmus programme is likely to be higher than for Erasmus+, as it will have double the overall budget. Nevertheless, we consider this a worthwhile investment to maintain access to Erasmus and the partnerships the UK has built within Europe through the programme over the past 30 years. It is clear, as the Minister himself noted, that the value of Erasmus cannot be measured simply in terms of financial contributions and receipts.
As an associated third country the UK would be able to attend Erasmus programme committees but would lose its voting rights, reducing the UK's strategic influence over the programme. We are reassured, however, that these meetings operate mainly on a collaborative basis and non-EU programme countries are regarded as valued partners."
Even though in the beginning of 2020 the UK Prime Minister said Brexit would be "no threat to the Erasmus scheme", after less than a year Boris Johnson announced that in the UK, Erasmus+ will be replaced by a new programme, named after the mathematician Alan Turing. Johnson declared that the new scheme would allow British students to go to the best universities in the world. Erasmus was already offering a similar opportunity, but unlike the European programme, British professors and students that are located outside the UK won't be eligible to participate in the Turing program.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a press release:
"We now have the chance to expand opportunities to study abroad and see more students from all backgrounds benefit from the experience.
We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom.
These opportunities will benefit both our students and our employers, as well as strengthening our ties with partners across the world."
However, the new scheme is not to solve the problem of the European students who want to study for a semester or a year in the UK. For them, all the plans of gaining knowledge and experience as well as exchange cultural views within the UK, will now vanish. As well as the plans of hundreds of young people who were considering a volunteering project in the UK, through the European Solidarity Corps Programme.
There may still be some opportunities for the British to be Erasmus students or volunteers, if they will be part of a project that was approved within the 2014-2020 Programme, and will take place in the next few years. These projects will continue to receive EU funding for their full duration, including those where funding runs beyond 2020 and the end of the transition period.
There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty surrounding this topic, and many young people are worried this will have an effect on their education plans. Looking at the bright side, the current world situation is providing the necessary time for reflecting and revaluating their options.
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