The flag of the European Union blowing in the wind with the sky in the background
European Union flag/EU flag

What does Brexit mean for ERASMUS?

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, said in a statement in June 2016, “The UK’s future access to the Erasmus+ programme will be determined as a part of wider discussions with the EU.” Since these wider discussions have so far determined basically nothing, it’s not surprising that students and those concerned with students find themselves asking: Will Brexit spell the end of the British contingent of the ERASMUS generations?

When ERASMUS was still a pipeline project before its foundation in 1987, it faced hostility from some member states (including – surprise! – Britain), that had substantial exchange programmes of their own. Since its foundation, however, its popularity has soared – the 3 millionth student went abroad under the ERASMUS programme in 2013-14. The image of a British student first struggling with German, French or Italian, but later having the greatest time and mastering the language he/she had set out to study comes to mind when one thinks of the programme.

It has become quite an iconic part of the European student experience – inspiring millions of students and a couple of (admittedly not so great) films. Tom Bird, now an Executive Producer at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, who went to Denmark with ERASMUS said, “It gave me an international perspective and an interest in cross-border collaboration,” demonstrating that ERASMUS has not only been personally beneficial to students, but has also helped foster an intrinsic appreciation for broadening of horizons and a European (if not global) identity. But hey – Brexit. We care little about integration and all that. Let’s talk about the important things – the £££ (or €€€).

Erasmus has helped foster an intrinsic appreciation for the broadening of horizons

At the moment, ERASMUS+ (the 2014-20 integration of the European Commission’s predecessor programmes like Lifelong Learning, Youth in Action and Erasmus Mundus) has been pledged approximately €2.1 billion of annual funding for 2014-20. UK university students who are spending a year of their course abroad in 2016-17 through the Erasmus+ programme are eligible for grants of up to €330 per month for study, or up to €430 per month for student traineeships, depending on the destination country’s cost of living.  For study abroad, disadvantaged students also receive €100 more per month, when applied and approved by their university.

Universities in the UK (including Oxford) make extensive use of the ERASMUS+ programme to enable academic mobility of the students enrolled in degrees like Modern Languages, History, Public Policy, Politics and Law – to name a few.

It’s not difficult to see how ERASMUS contributes to breaking the mobility barriers by improving language skills, adaptability, confidence of students and staff within Europe, helping do away with obstacles that hinder optimal allocation of resources (labour in this case).

But of course – losing ERASMUS won’t be devastating. Let’s not panic. Jo Johnson will help.

Moving will just become incredibly expensive for students. Those studying foreign languages who need to spend a year abroad with native speakers of the languages (as is the requirement at Oxford) would just be hard hit. The number of students who opt out of studying languages because of unaffordability of exchanges may just rise. We may just lose the increased employability perks that come with ERASMUS.

It’s all okay. We’re not even slightly unnerved by the fact that the government has not yet said anything reassuring about helping replace the programme (if it comes to it).

It’s going to be fine. Let’s patiently wait for the wider discussions with the EU. After all, Brexit will be Brexit.