'We need to put pressure on the UK government to act on this issue. Already two full academic years of students have lost this right forever. Let’s act before more opportunities are lost for other.'
When Britain left the EU on December 31, 2020, the educational, cultural and linguistic benefits of studying in other European countries, were stripped from UK students. Pre-Brexit, the UK was part of the vibrant Erasmus programme, which involves the exchange of students between European universities.
Named after a leading scholar in the Renaissance period, who travelled extensively around Europe, teaching and studying at different universities, Erasmus was established in 1987. Since, millions of people have benefitted from being able to study, train, volunteer, or gain professional experience in difficult countries, learning new languages and experiencing different cultures. In 2018, when Britain was part of the programme, around 17,000 students from the UK studied at institutions across Europe, and 32,000 EU nationals came to Britain to study or train.
The main reason cited for the UK’s withdrawal from Erasmus was financial, with Boris Johnson deeming it “too expensive.”
When Britain’s participation in Erasmus was promptly ended in 2020, it was replaced by a different student exchange programme. Named after the mathematician, Alan Turing, the worldwide Turing Scheme, was ostentatiously unveiled as enabling students to have their ‘pick of the world’ and travel to countries beyond Europe.
The new scheme involves universities having to bid for funding from the government for study abroad. Depending on the success of the bid, students either receive funding or don’t.
Also, unlike Erasmus, the Turing Scheme is not set up to create reciprocal arrangements. Subsequently, European students are unable to come to Britain for a study placement unless the swap is an arrangement by universities outside of the scheme.
Figures show that UK students hoping to study or train abroad in 2022/23 got £22m less from the Brexit-era Turing Scheme than was given out by the UE Erasums programme.
Students have also reported that the Turing Scheme is plagued with problems, leaving them facing uncertainty even after their study has begun.
As the consequences of the ending of Erasmus in Britain materialise, a campaign has been launched, calling on the UK government for a full return of overseas study rights for UK students.
Launched by the Rejoin EU Party, which campaigns to overturn Brexit, the campaigners inform how participation in Erasmus has nothing to do with EU membership, and how the UK government guaranteed continuation in the programme in early 2020, only to do a complete U-turn on it at the end of the year.
In its campaign video, the Rejoin EU Party point to a clip of Boris Johnson telling the House of Commons that there is “no threat to the Erasmus scheme,” that “we will continue to participate” and “UK students will be able to continue to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners just as they will able to continue to come to this country.” Less than 12 months later, and Johnson announced the government was pulling out of Erasmus, completely contradicting what had previously been promised.
The campaigners are calling for a full return of overseas study rights for UK students.
“We need to put pressure on the UK government to act on this issue. Already two full academic years of students have lost this right forever. Let’s act before more opportunities are lost for others,” they state.
A petition to rejoin Erasmus launched by the Rejoin EU party, has been signed by over 2,000 people.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward