UK mourns end of Erasmus program in the wake of Brexit

After closing his university in Scotland in the spring due to the coronavirus and forcing him to study online from home, Jack Boag gave up hope by dreaming of what awaits him in the coming academic year: a semester in the abroad at the University of Amsterdam.

But his hopes of taking part in the European Union-wide student exchange program, known as Erasmus, were dashed last week after Britain and Europe finally reached a Brexit agreement. As part of the announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would withdraw from Erasmus, citing its high cost.

“For me, Erasmus was the most direct benefit of European cooperation,” he said. Boag, a 20-year-old student in history and international relations at the University of Aberdeen, said. “It’s gone.”

For many young people in Britain, the decision to withdraw from Erasmus is just the most recent step in a steady erosion of such possibilities since the country voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. After young Britons, without a visa, could study and work anywhere in the European Union, they will now be treated like people from any other country outside the bloc when applying for educational programs – or jobs.

The withdrawal is also a blow to Britain’s rumored universities, a powerful symbol of its soft power in Europe and around the world, and a major source of revenue for the country. Britain still ranks second in the United States as a destination for international students, but leaving Erasmus could deter many EU students who might use the program as a path to a British education.

While it does not affect well-known institutions such as Oxford or Cambridge, many lesser-known universities may suffer.

Many young people and academics hoped that Britain would remain part of Erasmus under a status that would allow the participation of non-member countries such as Turkey and Norway. Mr. Johnson said in January that there was no threat to the Erasmus scheme.

So his announcement on Thursday sent shock waves through universities, angering diplomats and upsetting British students and professors who benefited from the program.

“There will be a relative loss of revenue for British universities, but from a diplomatic and ambassadorial point of view, the loss is invaluable,” said Seán Hand, the vice president in charge of Europe at the University of Warwick, the second largest source of Erasmus students from Britain.

Britain’s departure from Erasmus, one of the most popular programs in the European Union, is perhaps one of the strongest signs of its separation from the bloc, a clear sign of its vision on its future relationship with its former partners.

“Erasmus opens the horizons of people and broadens their global understanding,” said John O’Brennan, a professor of European studies at the University of Maynooth in Ireland, leading a European integration program funded by Erasmus. “If it is not the embodiment of the European ideal, I do not know what it is.”

While exchange between British and European universities will still be possible through bilateral agreements, British students will not benefit from the monthly grants provided by Erasmus, now officially known as Erasmus +. It will also be more difficult for academics and teachers to train or teach abroad.

Students and academics who have secured money before the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December can go until the end of the academic year 2021-22, according to the Universities UK, a representative group for the country’s academic institutions.

Since its launch in 1987, Erasmus has sent millions of people abroad for study exchanges, job placements or internships. About 200,000 students participate in the program annually. Alumni often like to talk about the experience, which they consider to be the most tangible form of European integration: a way to discover new cultures, study other languages ​​and make lifelong connections.

“Erasmus is not only the student exchange program for which he is known, but also embedded in how the European Union thinks about confronting unemployment and mobility,” said Paul James Cardwell, a law professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, who participated in the program in the nineties.

In Britain, half of the students studying abroad do so through Erasmus. For many, it has shaped personal paths and provided an accessible way to feel connected to mainland Europe.

Ben Munster, a 25-year-old British freelance writer who studied in Italy in 2015 and has since moved to Rome, calls Erasmus the ‘purest and most vivid expression of the Schengen dream’, referring to the European Union’s passport-free travel area. .

Natalia Barbour, a 22-year-old international communications student at the University of Glasgow who studied a semester in Amsterdam, said she wanted to participate since she was in high school. “It makes the university experience more exciting,” she said.

“Everyone wins, including professors,” said Mark Berry, a professor of music history at the Royal Holloway University of London, who taught in 2015 through Erasmus in the Netherlands. “I wish I had done more of it when it was still possible.”

In 2019, Britain welcomed more than 30,000 students and pupils through the program.

“So many students are coming to Britain and going home with a positive experience,” he said. Cardwell, professor at the University of Strathclyde, said. “This is such a strong aspect of Britain’s soft power.”

British lawmakers who supported the stay in the program wrote in a report last year that withdrawal would affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities out of proportion.

They also warned that it would be difficult to replace it.

Under the current Erasmus + program for 2014-20, Britain has contributed about 1.8 billion euros, or $ 2.2 billion, and according to the Department of Education, has received € 1 billion.

Mr. Johnson said last week that a program named after mathematician Alan Turing would replace Erasmus + and that it would enable students to “go to the best universities in the world.” As of September 2021, approximately 35,000 students will be studying abroad at an annual cost of £ 100 million. British professors and students from foreign universities are not eligible for the program.

However, Britain will continue to receive funding from the European Union’s research and innovation program, Horizon 2020, of which it is the second largest recipient.

UK universities have welcomed the Turing program, but other experts call the move short-sighted.

“It will be felt in 20 years,” he said. O’Brennan of the University of Maynooth said. “Britain has miscalculated what it receives from this program.”

Many universities have said they will maintain close ties with Europe.

“European universities do not want the link to be broken, for them it is very important that their students come to Britain,” he said. Hand told the University of Warwick.

For British alumni of the program, the end of Erasmus was the end of an era – one when they could not only easily study abroad, but also travel through Spain, learn to ski in Austria or at a festival in Denmark. kon dans.

“This is what Erasmus is all about: it taught me how to appreciate wine and cheese, how to take the time to hang out through lunch,” said Katy Jones, a 28-year-old who, as an Erasmus student, France is and an English language program in Lyon.

Mr. Boag, the student in Aberdeen, who is in his third year of a four-year program, said he hopes to apply for postgraduate programs in mainland Europe but is concerned about further obstacles that need to be clarified. word.

“For Erasmus and so many other things, Brexit is a box of Pandora,” he said. “We still do not know what’s in it, because we just opened it.”