And Brexit is turning the Erasmus + program on its head

What will change for Europe’s most popular educational program, Erasmus +, as Great Britain leaves the European Union.

A brief mental game: Imagine that you are offered the opportunity to study in another European country for a few months. You can choose the destination yourself. Which country do you think would choose the most? Spain? Italy? Portugal? You’d think wrongly: Great Britain was the most popular destination for those Austrians who wanted to undergo professional training in 2019 as part of the EU Erasmus + program. More than 1200 trainees – such as interns in vocational schools or anyone who wants to train while studying abroad – chose the United Kingdom. Great Britain was also one of the three most popular countries for higher education with a student population of 755. Only Spain (1115) and Germany (1995) were able to attract more students. “These numbers alone show that Brexit is really a drama for Erasmus +. We are losing access to an attractive educational country,” says Jacob Callis, managing director of the OeAD, the local agency for education and internationalization.

Brexit from Erasmus +

With its exit from the European Union, Britain has also called the Erasmus + program. Erasmus + is the largest European educational program, in which all the EU Lifelong Learning, Youth and Sports programs as well as cooperation programs in the higher education sector were brought together in 2014. Classes abroad are organized for students in addition to joint educational projects, adult education programs, student exchange and training. Internship abroad.

Special exchange program for the British

Kalisz explains that Brexit did not automatically mean Erasmus left. “There are also other countries outside the European Union, for example Serbia. This is a purely political decision.” About a year ago, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that his country wanted to remain part of the Erasmus + program. But then came the turn: Great Britain announced that it wanted to create its own exchange program – named after Alan Turing, the British mathematician who was able to decipher Wehrmacht’s Enigma code during World War II. OeAD Managing Director Calis says, “In the current situation, it is a completely issued program. British students should be able to study abroad.” Around 100 million pounds (110 million euros) will flow into the program in the first year.
35,000 students will be supported this way, adds the British ambassador to Vienna, Lee Turner. Great Britain has a “great interest in continuing to travel abroad for British students”. James Siloam, a professor of political science at Royal Holloway University in London, suspects this interest does exist: “I think the ideological assumption behind this is that Erasmus is producing very pro-European youth.” In the opinion of supporters of Brexit, this particular position is not suitable for New Great Britain.

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What happens to EU citizens who want to study in the UK?

The good news: Hardly anything will change for everyone who has already brought Erasmus + to Great Britain, says Jacob Callis. The budget for those projects that have already been approved will be spent. “Most of them are in 2021 and 2022, and some in 2023.” This means that anyone who is already in the UK can complete their program. In addition, it is possible to apply for residency in Great Britain in the academic year 2021/2022 due to the more comprehensive budget.

And what will happen after 2022?

Is there no longer any possibility for Austrians to continue their education in the British Isles? Yeah. Each local university can make individual agreements with its counterpart in Great Britain, Callis says. Accreditation courses attended in Great Britain also should not be a problem: there are currently no indications that the UK is also withdrawing from the Bologna Process and thus from the joint system of calculating study achievements.

Who Pays the High Tuition Fees?

But: Exiting the Erasmus + program lacks a regulatory framework for university cooperation. “One of the biggest hurdles will be the issue of the cartoons,” says Calis. Tuition fees in Great Britain are usually much higher than those in Austria: on average, a UK undergraduate student pays the equivalent of 6,500 to 10,500 euros per academic year. “The question will be how many foreign students will actually study in British universities for free.” One argument might be exchange: if a British university wants to enable its students to spend a semester abroad in Vienna or Salzburg on their own, it must be willing to enter into a collaboration.

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The Erasmus + program offers alternatives

There are also positive signs from the UK. Ambassador Lee Turner stated that students from the European Union were still “very welcome”. “In the UK, about 21 percent of all students come from abroad,” he says. However, there will also be alternatives from Erasmus +. Anyone who chose Great Britain to improve their English could alternatively choose either Scandinavia, which speaks heavily English, or Ireland, says OeAD’s managing director, Callis. But: “I think Ireland will not be able to receive everyone who has gone to Britain.” This is one reason why CALIS would like Great Britain to consider “the medium term, at least as an Erasmus + partner country.”

Wales and Scotland want to keep the Erasmus + program

A few days ago, more than 140 parliamentarians from the European Union sent a positive signal. In an open letter, they argued that Scotland and Wales should at least keep the Erasmus + program. “Every young person in Europe should have the opportunity to participate in the exchange program,” said Terry Rentke, vice president of the Green Party in the European Parliament. With Scottish Prime Minister Nicolas Sturgeon, MPs were opening the doors. The politician described the exit of Erasmus as “cultural sabotage.” And she promised to explore “alternative options.”

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