London-centric policymaking ‘behind Erasmus+ uncertainty’

Bergen rector says UK's failure to commit to European student mobility overlooks importance of ties between Britain's north and Norway

February 8, 2019

The UK’s failure to commit to a new study abroad scheme in the event of a no-deal Brexit is a failure of London-centric policymaking, the head of one of Norway’s top universities has suggested.

Dag Rule Olsen, rector of the University of Bergen, said he was saddened by the prospect that the UK would drop out of the Erasmus+ student mobility scheme if the British parliament was unable to agree a withdrawal agreement with the European Union by the end of March.

“A number of my UK vice-chancellor colleagues have told me they are concerned about what will happen if Britain leaves Erasmus+,” he told Times Higher Education, adding that he “cannot see how anyone wins by not having UK students [within Erasmus+]”.

Professor Olsen, who has led Bergen since 2013, said the impact of the UK leaving Erasmus+ would be “very dramatic” for both UK and Norwegian students unless a similar mobility agreement was introduced. Last week the UK government issued a notice which indicated, according to Universities UK, that it would not fund student exchange programmes from 2019-20 under a no-deal Brexit.

The flow of students between Scotland and Norway would be particularly affected if students had to pay the same undergraduate tuition fees paid by international students, Professor Olsen added. Both countries currently do not levy tuition fees for EU undergraduates, though English students are required to pay fees in Scotland.

“The current situation works extremely well – it would be extraordinarily odd if tuition fees were applied and it would make it very expensive for [Norwegian] students to go to Scotland,” he said.

Ending the reciprocal arrangements between Norway and Scotland, in particular, would overlook the “very close ties” and geographical proximity [Aberdeen is closer to Bergen than London] between these countries, Professor Olsen said.

“We are very well aware of the close and historical ties between our countries – whether people in London have this same perspective, I do not know,” he said.

However, Professor Olsen said he did not support the view of Norway’s higher education minister Iselin Nybø, who recently advised students not to study in the UK because of Brexit.

While Professor Olsen described this view as “realistic” given the “great uncertainty around Brexit”, Bergen did not advise its Erasmus+ students to shun the UK, he said. “It is not something we would advise them not to do,” he said.

He also voiced concerns for UK-Norwegian research collaborations after Brexit, saying it would have “huge impact” if these partnerships could not continue.

Other university presidents across Europe had also voiced concerns about a no-deal Brexit, including those from the Coimbra Group, which has 39 university members in 23 European countries, including Bergen, said Professor Olsen.

“We will do our utmost to collaborate if a no-deal Brexit happens, but university presidents are worried about this,” he said.

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