The European Union’s next student exchange programme is set to be opened to any country in the world, paving the way for UK universities and students to take part in Erasmus+ post-Brexit.
In its proposal for the Erasmus+ programme for the period 2021-27, published on 30 May, the European Commission said that countries outside the EU and the European Economic Area would be able to participate fully as long as they do not have a “decisional power” on the programme and agree to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits.
Any agreement with “third countries” would include “the calculation of financial contributions to individual programmes and their administrative costs”, it added.
Erasmus+ is currently fully open only to EU countries, plus some countries that are in the process of joining the bloc, and those in the European Free Trade Association. Nations neighbouring the EU may take part in some parts of the programme.
Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association, said that the new rules “allow the UK to join [Erasmus+] as a third country” after the country leaves the EU.
“It is no surprise as we know that the [chief EU negotiator Michel] Barnier team has association to EU programmes as a part of the plans for the Future Partnership [with the UK]. What is surprising is that Erasmus opens up for the rest of the world for association at the same time,” he said.
Dr Jørgensen added that it would be “logical” if the commission’s proposal for Horizon Europe, the next research and innovation framework programme, due to be announced at the start of June, “followed the same principles”.
“With regard to Brexit, the EU has always gone for legal coherence, and it would generally be a chance to harmonise the rules for association across programmes,” he said.
A report from Universities UK International, published last year, showed that more than half of all study and work trips for UK undergraduates came via Erasmus+ in 2014-15.
The commission’s proposal document also confirms plans to double the budget for Erasmus+ to €30 billion (£26 billion) and to allow about 12 million students to travel abroad in the period 2021-27, up from 4 million during the current programme, as announced earlier this month.
While this includes a €3.74 billion boost to the higher education element of Erasmus+, to €8.64 billion, Michael Gaebel, director of the Higher Education Policy Unit at the EUA, said that the share of the overall budget going to the sector would drop from 33 per cent to 29 per cent.
“This is, of course, a substantial amount of money, but will it be sufficient, given the planned increase in mobility and the additional goals and activities for cooperation?” he asked.
For example, the proposal now includes a commitment to promote social inclusion and to improve outreach to people with fewer opportunities, and it is unclear what the cost of the 20 European university networks proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron last year might be.
Cooperation among organisations and institutions through Erasmus+ “was already not sufficiently funded, with success rates for some activities in certain years as low as 8 per cent. Nobody wants to see this repeated under the new programme,” Mr Gaebel added.