How Brexit uncertainty continues to leave the Erasmus+ programme in limbo

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By Sarah Dalton, English Literature,  first year

Amid Brexit uncertainty, Sarah Dalton contemplates the future of the European Union programme that enables thousands of UK students to study abroad and the possible impact upon the University of Bristol students involved.

The question of how Brexit will impact the Erasmus+ Scheme has repeatedly arisen, and many facts and figures have been passed around in an attempt to avoid the simple response of ‘I don’t know’.

With the UK potentially leaving the European Union, it remains to be asked just how students on the Erasmus+ programme will be affected and what it means for students at Bristol in particular?

Erasmus+ is a programme co-founded by the European Union which aims to increase student and staff movement within European countries. Run by the European Commission and managed by the British Council, the scheme promises financial support to all students completing an Erasmus+ study placement and staff completing teaching or training abroad. It also provides the opportunity to receive language support in their chosen country.

According to the University of Bristol, approximately 350 students from across Europe study here each year through the scheme and 450 University of Bristol students travel to one of Bristol’s 100 partner universities.  On a nationwide scale, currently, 53 per cent of UK students who learn abroad do so through the Erasmus+ scheme.

When the news of Brexit first broke after the general election in June 2016 and the exit date was set to 29th March 2019, the primary concern was that funding wouldn’t be available for the 2019/20 academic year.

'Even with the Erasmus+ scholarship, it is already difficult to control my budget between pounds and euros because the British pound rate keeps increasing'Clémence, current Erasmus+ student

However, the delay of this date to 31st October under May’s government meant that Erasmus+ was able to assure funding for UK students travelling to EU countries under the 2019/20 programme, regardless of a no-deal Brexit, the proposed deal, or further delay.

In the case of a no-deal Brexit, Erasmus+ confirmed that students whose programmes have already begun would continue to be funded by the EU, and the UK government had undertaken to fund those who had not.

However, there are further complications beyond the funding of the scholarships often not considered by the mainstream press. University of Bristol third year student, Clémence, who is currently studying on the Erasmus+ programme from France noted that ‘even with the Erasmus+ scholarship, it is already difficult to control my budget between pounds and euros because the British pound rate keeps increasing.’

She continues, ‘It is tough to know when I should transfer money because it (the exchange rate) gets even higher every day and I lose money over it.’

Whilst Erasmus+ has worked to cover the current academic year regardless of the Brexit outcome, debates continue to take place over its future and those looking to undertake the Erasmus+ 2020/21 programme.

In August of this year, the debate reached such a height that Richard Lochhead, Scottish Further and Higher Education Minister, and Kirsty Williams, Welsh Education Minister, wrote to the UK Education Secretary to raise their concerns. They highlighted that when the UK does leave the EU it is uncertain whether funding for the next academic year will be approved.

Whilst it is possible for the UK to continue participating in Erasmus+ programmes outside of the EU (as many countries including Iceland and Norway currently do), this relies entirely on the UK government including this in Brexit negotiations.

'In the case of a no-deal Brexit, Erasmus+ confirmed that students whose programmes have already begun would continue to be funded by the EU'Sarah Dalton

As it stands, the UK government has released a statement promising that if these negotiations don’t take place, they will attempt to speak with individual countries about creating exchange programmes.

However, whether they intend to keep this promise, or how high this issue sits on Boris Johnson’s priority list is perhaps questionable. The Lords EU Committee themselves have warned how difficult the programme would be to replicate.

Whilst the future of the Erasmus+ programme is still, for the most part, unsure, current advice from the University of Bristol reassures that if the UK leaves the EU as intended, there will be no change to the UK-EU immigration rules until 1st January 2021, and encourages concerned students to contact the Global Opportunities team for more information.

Featured image: Frederick Tubiermont / Unsplash


Are you thinking of participating in the Erasmus+ programme, but Brexit uncertainty is giving you second thoughts? Let us know!

The University of Bristol provides further information on Brexit and the Erasmus+ programme for its prospective EU students, current students and current EU staff here.

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