EU’s Erasmus scheme is opportunity for all, not just elite

by Clare Maclure | 11.06.2019

The EU’s Erasmus programme has a misleading image of just being a student exchange scheme and, as such, a bit elitist. But Erasmus is designed to boost education, training and opportunities for all EU citizens – and that will be even more true in the future.

Like many EU ideas, Erasmus is poorly understood in the UK, and may only be fully appreciated by the British public if Brexit means we’re no longer a part of it.

It includes activities for those at school as well as those at university, for work as well as study placements, for teachers as well as students, for organisations as well as individuals. It promotes the modernisation of education and training systems, innovation and exchange of good practice in education policy, as well as good governance in sport across Europe.

Erasmus is set to be expanded massively in the EU’s next spending period, between 2021 and 2027, with its budget doubled to £27 billion. The European Commission expects 12 million school pupils, higher education students, trainees, teachers, trainers, youth workers, sports coaches, learners in vocational education and training as well as adult learning staff in Europe to benefit – that’s three times more than in the previous period.

The next phase of Erasmus also aims to knock its elitist image on the head. The European Commission wants it to reach out to people of all social backgrounds and to help them study for the future –  in areas such as renewable energy, climate change, environmental engineering, artificial intelligence and design.

According to the British Council, which jointly runs Erasmus in the UK, 40,000 Brits went abroad to study, train, volunteer or gain professional experience in 2015-16 via an Erasmus-supported scheme, while almost 50,000 Europeans came to the UK.

The UK’s participation in Erasmus as an EU member is due to end with Brexit. But exactly how it will disentangle – and potentially reattach – itself is unclear. Under the failed Withdrawal Agreement, which Theresa May negotiated, the government promised that all Erasmus projects would continue as planned during the transitional period until 2020. Negotiations about whether the UK would participate in the 2021-2027 programme could then have taken place during the transition period.

If the UK leaves without a deal, the government has promised UK participants can complete any Erasmus projects that have already been agreed and to underwrite funding for the lifetime of the projects. But it is unclear whether individuals or organisations will now be able to participate in new Erasmus activities planned for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Even if there is a Brexit deal it remains unclear whether the UK will seek to rejoin Erasmus.  Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Turkey, North Macedonia and Serbia all participate fully as “non-EU programme countries”. Other countries are classified as “partner countries” and can participate in Erasmus activities under certain circumstances.

In February the House of Lords’ EU committee concluded the Erasmus programme was “an overwhelming force for good” and the UK should seek full membership of “this important initiative”. If that could not be negotiated, the committee said, it would be essential for the government to establish an alternative UK scheme.

But it would be an enormous challenge to match the enhanced employment opportunities, language skills and boost to quality learning and teaching that Erasmus offers. As the LSE’s Anne Corbett puts it, such an ambitious scheme ”is easy to destruct and very difficult to reconstruct”.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “EU’s Erasmus scheme is opportunity for all, not just elite”

  • There are many reasons why I am pro the EU and one of them is the Erasmus scheme. It provides excellent opportunities for citizens of the EU and I wish it to be an option for my grandchildren currently in the early years of their secondary education. Should they lose this option I will be very angry.
    My MP, Suella Braverman, studied European Law at the Sorbonne under the Erasmus scheme and, I believe, obtained a second degree there. She now wishes to deny this opportunity to others which I find extraordinary. I would have thought such an experience would have made her pro EU not unwaveringly against it. I don’t understand why she holds such right wing views and calls the ECJ everything under the sun. Whether she thinks this will further her own career in the UK practising law, I know not. But what I do know is that she is playing roulette with the future of the young people in this country. Such hypocrisy.
    But as Clare Maclure’s article states most British people are unaware of such schemes as Erasmus and it needs to be shouted from the roof tops that it exists. Many people who voted leave in 2016, I believe, voted in protest that they were being left behind, But it looks to me as if this was a one-off vote as, since 2016, these guys have not turned out to vote in any other election in such numbers, judging by the turn out figures.