The Erasmus scheme is a popular European Union programme which helps students study abroad, participate in vocational training or work overseas, and helps teachers wanting to work or train abroad to do so. However, due to Brexit the UK will no longer be a part of this scheme, so what will change for UK students looking to study abroad?
1. Current students
Regarding current students expecting to study abroad, UK universities are still eligible to participate in Erasmus programmes if funding was awarded before the end of 2020, in which case students and staff can continue with their exchanges even if they take place after the transition period end. Universities UK’s guidance is that: ‘In effect, this means staff and students can complete mobility periods and receive funding up until the end of the 2021-22 academic year.’ However, UK and EU students will of course have to deal with new immigration regulations.
2. UK students previously on Erasmus
According to figures from before the pandemic, about half of UK university students who studied abroad did so through the Erasmus programme, and 2017 saw 16,561 UK students participate in Erasmus, with 31,727 EU nationals coming to the UK.
3. What will replace it?
During the Brexit transition period the UK continued to participate in the Erasmus scheme, however as this ended on 31st December 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that this will no longer be the case. He stated the scheme will, however, be replaced with a new scheme named after the mathematician Alan Turing. He said leaving Erasmus had been a “tough decision” but that under the new scheme, students would “have the opportunity… not just to go to European universities, but to go to the best universities in the world”.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the new scheme will provide funding for about 35,000 students to go on placements around the world from September, stating that although the programme will cost £100m in 2021-22, funding for subsequent academic years will be set out in future spending reviews. The department stated the new scheme will be targeted at students from disadvantaged backgrounds and will be a ‘truly international scheme’. UK institutions will be asked to bid to join the Turing scheme in the new year, and then successful applicants will receive funding for administering the scheme, through which students will receive grants to help cover the costs of studying abroad.
4. Criticisms of the new scheme
A report from the house of Lords EU Committee has warned that the benefits of the Erasmus programme will be very difficult to replicate with a national programme, as the UK government is planning. It stated that vocational education and training would stop, and that leaving Erasmus would ‘disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities’.
5. Can the UK rejoin?
The Erasmus programme is run in seven-year cycles, meaning the next one will be from 2021 to 2027. The European Commission recently proposed doubling the funding of Erasmus for the next cycle to €30bn (£27bn), and while the details have not yet been agreed, there have been suggestions it may become easier for non-EU countries to participate, if they pay to do so.
Currently, not all countries that participate in Erasmus are EU members, for example, Turkey, Iceland, Norway and Serbia are ‘programme members’ and so they participate fully in the scheme. Arguably therefore, the UK government could decide to rejoin Erasmus, however even if it does decide it wants to participate after 2021, it may not be able to negotiate in time for the start of the cycle, so there could be a period when such programmes are not available for UK participants.