Britain’s access to the Erasmus exchange scheme, which enables study abroad exchanges across the EU for many students at British universities, cannot be guaranteed after 2017.
Ruth Sinclair-Jones, the scheme’s UK director, revealed today in The Guardian that Britain’s role within it is currently facing ‘a sad moment of uncertainty’ and warned the end of British involvement could be a ‘devastating tragedy’ after having been established since 1987, especially as the English language has made UK universities a ‘powerful magnet’.
Of the 120,000 students from the European Union currently studying at UK universities, 27,401 of these are enrolled through the Erasmus programme and have their fees paid by the EU. UK interest in the scheme has grown in recent years, with the number of applications to study through Erasmus increasing from 7,500 in 2007 to 15,000 in 2013. The current Vice Chancellor of Aberyswyth University claimed, however, that post ‘Brexit’ tensions had led to over 100 European students withdrawing their applications to the University since the 23rd June vote.
Ms Sinclair-Jones reassured those applying for the scheme next year, as well as those currently enrolled that they are unlikely to be affected, but she warned that ‘in the long term, it’s an unknown situation. We will continue with our plans until 2017 but after that we have to wait’. The vice-chancellor of one UK university warned excluding the UK from Erasmus could have a ‘devastating impact’ on university finances.
Various higher education organisations are currently investigating whether Britain could remain the Erasmus network even after exiting the EU. Universities UK, which acts as a liason for UK Universities sending and receiving Erasmus students, pointed out that Norway was a member despite not being part of the European Union, but warned Britain would likely be unable to join the group if it attempted to restrict freedom of movement in a way similar to former Erasmus member Switzerland:
The Swiss had their referendum limiting freedom of movement and were told they are therefore out of Erasmus. Switzerland has now initiated its own scheme but this costs a lot of money – and raises the issue that only better-off families can be part of it. The great thing about Erasmus is that it made the experience and opportunity available to every student, whatever their family means.
The President of Sheffield University Students’ Union told the Guardian that Erasmus as an exchange scheme is ‘irreplacable’. Sinclair-Jones described Erasmus as a large part of the ‘rich cultural relations’ between Britain and Europe.