On Wednesday 8th January, MPs voted against a second reading of New Clause 10, which would have required the UK government to negotiate the continuation of full membership in the Erasmus scheme after Brexit.
The clause, which was tabled by the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, was voted against by 344 votes to 254 votes.
The clause was proposed as an addition to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, the final version of which was backed by MPs on the 9th January.
An 11-month transition period will begin on 31 January, when the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union (EU).
The Erasmus scheme provides funding which allows students from the UK to study abroad at universities in other Erasmus member countries, and vice versa.
The programme also allows for work and vocational placements throughout Europe, and allows staff in all levels of education to both teach and train abroad.
The European Commission has recently proposed doubling funding to 30 billion (£26 billion). Around 53 per cent of UK students who study abroad do so through Erasmus.
An estimated 1 billion in funding has been allocated to the UK between 2014 and 2020 through the Erasmus + programme.
The University of Edinburgh currently has more than 400 Erasmus exchange places for students from partner universities, and has Erasmus exchange agreements with around 250 universities in over 20 European countries.
Around 30 European countries take part in the scheme, including some not in the EU such as Iceland, Turkey, and Norway.
Despite the vote, the government maintains that it intends to remain a member of the Erasmus programme.
An official from the Department of Education stated in an interview with BBC News:
“The government is committed to continuing the academic relationship between the UK and the EU, including through the next Erasmus…programme if it is in our interests to do so.
“The vote…does not change that.”
If the UK government ultimately decides not to negotiate for continued membership in the Erasmus programme, then it is possible that a national scheme which provides similar funding and opportunities could take its place.
However, a recent report from the House of Lords EU Committee suggests that the benefits of Erasmus may be difficult to replicate with a national programme.
“We strongly believe…that it is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to preserve current close levels of cooperation on research and innovation and educational mobility,” reads the report.
“However, it would be a formidable challenge to try to replicate at a national level the substantial benefits of the EU’s programmes…”
Funding for Erasmus programmes in the current academic year will remain in place, with Universities UK encouraging students to “continue applying as normal.”
They have also promoted the Support Study Abroad campaign, which encourages the government to provide funding for continued student and staff placements even if Erasmus membership is not maintained, since February 2019.
The programme runs in seven-year cycles, with the next taking place from 2021 to 2027.
The timescale has raised concerns that, following the UK’s official exit from the EU at the end of January, it would be difficult to negotiate Erasmus membership in the allotted time before the next cycle begins.
Should this occur, it would limit opportunities for students and staff to study and work abroad unless equivalent national funding and opportunities were arranged.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has stated their intention to campaign for the UK’s continued membership in the Erasmus scheme.
“NUS will step up our efforts in demonstrating the importance of the scheme to both the sector and the UK government..It is imperative that whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, opportunities for students to study abroad are maintained.”
Image via jisc.ac.uk