UK must fight to stay in Erasmus+

August 17, 2017

Paul James Cardwell suggests that “UK students ‘may be barred from Erasmus after Brexit’” (Opinion, 10 August). He is right to insist on the value of Erasmus+ exchanges for UK students, in particular for those who could not otherwise study abroad. Study abroad widens perceptions and increases employability.

Although the number of UK students with a period abroad has been growing steadily, the UK’s rate of participation, 7 per cent in 2014-15, is low by international standards. Of course, Erasmus+ is not simply about student mobility. In 2015‑16, 1,700 staff from UK institutions used Erasmus+ to teach abroad, while 1,260 travelled abroad for training.

Throughout the programme’s first two years, the UK was one of the top three destinations for learners from continental Europe, hosting 10 per cent of students, and was the top destination for staff.

The real issue is whether freedom of movement is necessary for membership of Erasmus+. Cardwell suggests that the UK would be forced into a costly Swiss-style separate agreement to remain in the arrangement. That may not be necessary.

On 21 June, I represented Universities UK vice-chancellors at a meeting of the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament, together with Thomas Ekman Jørgensen from the European University Association. He pointed out that there was no legal constraint on UK membership of Erasmus+. There might be a need for the EU to control national officers and to manage the audit processes and other conditions set by the EU. It would certainly be in the EU’s interest. Jørgensen and I urged the European Parliament members to lobby the European Commission to ensure that student mobility stays in place.

Within the UK, Erasmus+ has allowed those who would not otherwise study abroad to do so. One real risk if the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ is not secured is that access to mobility will be further limited to the most privileged rather than helping those who stand to benefit the most. There is every reason, as Cardwell would agree, to fight for Erasmus+.

Christina Slade
(Outgoing) vice-chancellor
Bath Spa University

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