Students and universities mourning the UK’s departure from the Erasmus + program


After reaching a trade agreement at the very last minute with the institutions of the European Union on December 24, many businessmen and politicians on both sides of the English Channel seemed to breathe with relief. However, the agreement not only marks the UK’s exit from the European common market and the tariff union, but also from one of the most successful EU programs, the Erasmus + program .

It is a community policy established in 1987 that encourages and finances the exchange of students, graduates and teachers between the member countries with an annual budget of 14.7 billion euros. But it also admits the participation of non-EU member states, such as Norway, Iceland, Serbia or even Turkey. Therefore, leaving the UK was not an impediment to ending their participation in Erasmus +.

A flawed cost-benefit analysis

The announcement of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom shocked part of the educational community, because Boris Johnson had promised in January 2020 to maintain participation and funding in this program despite the completion of Brexit.

Johnson himself acknowledged that it was a tough decision , but it did not compensate for its high economic cost: in 2019 the country contributed almost 200 million euros, being a net contributor. In return, his government prepares an alternative program, the Turing program , in honor of the British mathematician Alan Turing , endowed with 100 million pounds (about 110 million euros). It will only be available to 35,000 British students each year, allowing them to undertake exchanges not only in Europe, but around the world from September 2021. Obviously, it is a less financially resourceful program.

However, the House of Lords has already warned in a report that it will be difficult to replace Erasmus + with another national program, since it will have to be designed almost from scratch and negotiated with new potential partners. It is a long bureaucratic process , consisting of negotiating academic fees or credit validations.

Long-term loss of academic influence for the UK?

The UK sent an average of 16,000 students and received about 31,000 in the last five academic years via Erasmus +. It was the second preferred country for Spanish students to carry out exchanges, after Italy, and Spain was the country that welcomed the most British students in recent years.

UK students and teachers will be able to continue to exchange in the EU, as there will be bilateral agreements between UK and EU universities. But if they want to stay for more than 90 days out of 180, they will have to apply for a visa, except in the case of the Republic of Ireland, with which the United Kingdom maintains the free movement of people.

On the other hand, students and community academics who decide to carry out their exchange in the United Kingdom – already without an Erasmus grant, either with their own funds or with the help of national or regional governments – will also have to apply for a student visa if their stays are longer than six months, at a cost of 348 pounds. This could discourage many students from targeting the UK, a country with a high cost of living.

The Republic of Ireland has confirmed that it will continue to fund the Erasmus + program for non-Irish students as a symbol of brotherhood and investment in the future. For its part, the Scottish government is very displeased with the UK’s exit from the program: Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called it ” vandalism “. And no wonder, the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, both Scottish, are among the three institutions that have received the most Erasmus students in recent years.

Johnson’s decision has been met with apathy by the rest of the British universities. Of course, the most prestigious ones, such as those from Oxford or Cambridge, do not expect to see their attractiveness or income jeopardized, but the lesser-known ones do, who have benefited from the Erasmus program not only thanks to the expense of community students, but also because of promote your soft power in continental Europe. In addition, their requests have dropped due to the pandemic and mobility restrictions in the last year.

Of course, the lack of scholarships and bureaucratic red tape will discourage many community students and academics, including Spaniards, from making a stay in the UK, which may increase the attractiveness of EU countries with high levels of English. like Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and, of course, the Republic of Ireland. For UK academic institutions it will mean a loss of income and of cultural and diplomatic influence.

Author Bio: Eszter Wirth is Professor of International Economics (ICADE) at Universidad Pontificia Comillas