Erasmus, the 30-year-old student exchange programme, is widely considered one of the greatest successes of the European Union. Initially, it was conceived to allow students from 11 European countries to study abroad for 3 to 12 months. By 2014, the initiative had expanded to sports, volunteering and apprenticeships, gaining the new name of Erasmus+. Currently, 33 countries (28 EU states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and around 90% of the EU’s universities participate in the programme.
Erasmus has been increasingly popular in the UK: 15,610 outgoing students and 27,401 incoming students were registered to take part in the initiative in 2013/2014, a substantial increase from 2007/2008 (10,278 outgoing and 19,088 incoming). After Brexit, however, the programme in the UK has an uncertain future, especially if the country will no longer contribute to its funding.
Professor Sofia Corradi, founder of the programme, is positive Erasmus will live on, perhaps only with a new name. Four British students of Journalism, Communications and Politics at Cardiff University – Alys Hewitt (20, from Aberystwyth), Gareth Axenderrie (24, Bedwas), Lewis Payne (20, Leigh-on-Sea) and James Taylor (19, Caldecott) – told Europe Street what they think about the future of the programme.
What is the added-value of a programme like Erasmus in your views?
Alys: It is a very important scheme in terms of giving students experience of other cultures, working and studying independently in new places, and making connections with people and institutions around the world. In addition, it facilitates the learning and improvement of languages, it appeals to potential employers and gives students freedom of travel at a reduced cost due to the grants and funding available, which means that, in theory, any student can embark on a year abroad regardless of their financial situation. It is also relatively accessible and easy to apply, and there are a number of options available in terms of countries and universities.
Gareth: I think Erasmus is one of the EU greatest successes. It offers students from all corners of the EU the opportunity to study in a different country, and to make friends and cooperative relationships throughout Europe, forming a global network. It also provides with an opportunity that many wouldn’t otherwise have to not just travel to, but also to live and study in a foreign country. Next year, I will study in AArhus (Denmark) through the Erasmus programme, and I hope to immerse in the Danish culture while challenging myself in a very different institution from my current one.
Lewis: Studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity for students who wish to explore outside of their comfort zones and become more independent. It is also a great opportunity of putting a learnt language into practice, and become a more confident bilingual speaker. I believe British students attend university not only to learn the curricula but also to gain new life experiences, becoming a more well-rounded person; the Erasmus program enhances all of these purposes very well.
James: The chance to experience and engage in other cultures will always be a valuable one. However, I believe Erasmus wouldn’t be the best option for me, as it may make studying more difficult. It would be quite a change from home that could take some time to get used to, which may in turn affect my studies. However, I would definitely be interested in joining the programme for an internships or work experience abroad for a few weeks.
What are your thoughts about the possibility the UK will exit the programme?
Alys: It would be a great shame to deny future generations of students (particularly those from poorer backgrounds who would perhaps not have the means to travel otherwise) the opportunity to experience the advantages of the Erasmus scheme. I believe this would have a big impact both on British students travelling abroad to study and those coming to UK universities from elsewhere.
James: Exiting the programme would strongly impact students in the UK, as it would mean losing the great opportunity of studying with people from all over Europe. It would in fact result in denying the chance of meeting students from other parts of the world, which is fundamental in terms of learning and challenging our own perceptions and opinions. It would be a real shame if Brexit stopped this evidently culturally-enriching experience.
How likely do you think it is the UK will leave the Erasmus programme?
Alys: It’s hard to say, but the UK could well be at risk of having to drop the Erasmus scheme once negotiations begin, since Brexit will affect our freedom of movement and it may be difficult to gather the adequate funding to keep the programme alive without EU support. It most likely would not be seen as a government priority after exiting the EU, so funding might not be allocated in this particular area. Nevertheless, hopefully UK universities will continue to make links with European and international institutions so that students can have the choice to study at them if they wish.
Gareth: I’d like to think Brexit won’t have an impact on Erasmus. However, if it does, it will also have a detrimental impact on the UK. We don’t have the most outward-looking attitude in the EU compared to other European countries; the English language limits that, our inability to speak many of the other European languages and only being unilingual. That’s an issue. I think if the Erasmus programme left the UK, that would make us become more introvert, insular and inward-looking, really affecting the UK standpoint in the global community.
Lewis: With Theresa May taking a hard stance on immigration, I think it is likely that the scheme will end. As May seems to be going for a ‘hard Brexit’, it seems in fact unlikely that the UK will keep its freedom of movement and remain part of the scheme.
Do you think the UK election will make a difference?
Gareth: If after June 8 we have politicians who are outward looking, global looking, who are willing to look beyond the next elections and the tips of their noses, considering what is best for future generations, then I believe we can have healthy cooperation with the EU and an Erasmus programme that goes way beyond membership of the EU. If we don’t, if we get politicians who are only fixated with the British viewpoint, then we may as well lose it.
Silvia Martelli © all rights reserved.
Photo via Pixabay.