Opinion | Withdrawal from the Erasmus programme leaves students in the lurch


By Grace Murphy, Fourth Year, Spanish and Politics

The cornerstone of many student’s universities experience, including my own, has been the Erasmus programme, an EU scheme which helps students to study in fellow members’ universities and institutions.

The EU scheme has been unable to evade the long hand of Brexit, and the government announced over Christmas that the UK will no longer participate in the programme.

Previously, UK students enjoyed easy mobility for studying and learning vocationally in different European countries through the programme. However, now they face the arduous bureaucracy of immigration regulations and obtaining student visas in order to complete their year abroad.

'The withdrawal from the programme has been met with regret and anguish by many students' | Epigram / Grace Murphy

The withdrawal from the programme has been met with regret and anguish by many students who started University courses relying on the free movement of the programme to help ease them into living abroad.

Enrolling at a foreign university can be daunting enough. On my year abroad I experienced the (sometimes slow…) process of enrolling in a Spanish university through the Erasmus programme. There was much to-ing and fro-ing between various Erasmus coordinators until I could complete my registration, with many classes being offered specifically for Erasmus students. The process was at times confusing, even with a large Erasmus community offering guidance and support.

Navigating this process of application and enrolment in a foreign country without any clear direction or programme from the government is bound to cause problems and add stress for many students.

It’s a shame that the UK’s involvement in the programme is ending

Lower-income students will be the most disadvantaged by the withdrawal of this funding, as many often rely on the grant to financially support their placement abroad. While for some the Erasmus grant is just an added bonus to studying abroad, other students depend upon the money to be able to move abroad and live comfortably.

For those students potentially deciding whether to study a language or take a year abroad, lost access to the Erasmus programme might just tip them in the other direction. The withdrawal from the programme removes such incentives and leaves some students who are preparing for their year abroad at a loose end as to whether they can afford to go.

Without the EU grant, the year abroad would simply not be an option for many students. Being given money for living abroad isn’t an offer that comes round often, and the government’s decision to withdraw will no doubt dissuade many students from going abroad. A viable alternative programme that the government has promised is yet to emerge, and students appear (for this coming year, at least) to be left in the lurch.

The Erasmus programme was a tried and tested way for UK students to have a great experience

Not only will students suffer financially, but the Erasmus programme entails so much more, and really encompasses more of a mini community while abroad. On my year abroad, various Facebook groups, nights out and social activities were organised under the umbrella of the Erasmus committee.

Removing students from the programme may also risk leaving students isolated and removed from this community, during a year where many are so far from home for the first time.

Only announcing withdrawal from the scheme in December, when students have already submitted their Year Abroad applications is another oversight that students will have to grapple with. In a year marked with Coronavirus uncertainty, did students really need another last-minute surprise of no Erasmus as they prepare to leave the UK?

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There is no doubt about the cultural enrichment that living in a different country brings, and the Erasmus programme was a tried and tested way for UK students to have a great experience.

It’s a shame that the UK’s involvement in the programme is ending, as it has gifted many students in the country with unforgettable experiences that would maybe not have been possible to them without the ease of the programme and the money it provided.

Whilst many are lamenting at this decision, Boris Johnson did not miss an opportunity to plug this as an achievement of Brexit, as now students “have the opportunity... not just to go to European universities, but to go to the best universities in the world"… if that’s any consolation.

Featured Image: Epigram / Grace Murphy

Do you think the Turing scheme will be a suitable replacement for Erasmus?