Thursday, November 23The Voice of London

Should the government guarantee the Erasmus+ programme?

“Since the EU referendum, there has been a large increase in xenophobia, racism and hate crimes.”

Reporter: Daniel Khalili-Tari | Subeditor: Micaela Kolischer

The Erasmus+ exchange scheme promotes diversity, intercultural understanding and social mobility according to statistics

Erasmus alumni are half as likely as non-mobile students to be unemployed one year after graduation according to figures. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Since its launch in 1987, the Erasmus programme has supported over three million students and 470,000 staff. From its initial budget of €3.1bn (£2.8bn), students and teachers have received financial support to study, learn, teach and train abroad. In 2014, the EU initiative was enhanced and renamed Erasmus+. However, the programme may be withdrawn as part of the UK’s negotiations with the European Union, as Brexit Secretary David Davis is yet to guarantee the project.

Since its renewal almost three years ago, the scheme’s budget has been increased to €14.7bn (£13.3bn) and aims to provide opportunities for over four million Europeans by 2020, when the current programme is due to come to an end.

Considering, the current political consensus regarding the free movement of people, the probability of Britain remaining part of the programme is low. In 2014, Switzerland lost its access to the scheme after imposing immigration controls. The UK could be next.

Last monththe Labour Party issued the Conservatives 170 questions about their plans for the UK’s departure from the EU. The opposition has demanded answers to all questions, which represent each individual day until Theresa May’s deadline to begin Brexit negotiations on March 31st, 2017. Their request includes demands for answers about the Erasmus+ programme.

Other political parties such as the Liberal Democrats’ Youth have begun a petition to save the scheme gathering over 10,000 signatures. The petition is backed by their leader Tim Farron. The party argues the exchange programme enriches students’ “cultural knowledge”. Speaking to the Voice of London, Liberal Democrats’ Youth International Officer Andrew Martin, 24, said:

“The most important benefit of the Erasmus+ scheme is the cultural exchange, which promotes intercultural understanding. Since the EU Referendum there has been a large increase in xenophobia, racism and hate crimes. However, the Erasmus project encourages students to go and appreciate another country’s culture, traditions and way of living, which can tackle these issues.”

The latest government figures show a 41% rise in racist or religious abuse incidents recorded by police in England and Wales during July. The month after the UK voted to leave the EU.

Newest GDP numbers for the UK economy have temporarily shrugged off the economic worries of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Although, graduate careers experts Prospects have produced a report which says job sectors linked to the global economy are likely to cutback on recruitment. This includes work fields such as accountancy, banking, business consulting, energy and media related occupations.

However, by maintaining the Erasmus+ programme the government can increase employability figures for UK graduates, while simultaneously ensuring higher education institutions maintain their diversity. Commenting on the potential problems for the higher education sector, Martin, said:

“It’s well known the majority of universities wanted to remain in the EU. However, students who use the Erasmus+ exchange scheme can still bring different perspectives to UK higher education because of their diverse cultural backgrounds. This can help maintain educational diversity and is an important part of learning. Unfortunately, UK universities may lose out.”

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In total 674,890 people applied to study at UK institutions for the academic year commencing in 2016. From this figure a total of 51,850 EU applicants applied, an increase of 2,920 when compared to the previous year. However, it is expected the amount of European students studying in the UK will decrease once Article 50 is triggered.

Yesterday, the High Court ruled Parliament must vote before implementing Article 50. The decision deliberated by three judges, has increased the uncertainty surrounding ongoing Brexit negotiations and the expected date on which Britain will leave the union. Theresa May has said she still intends to begin the UK’s departure in March 2017 and will appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.

The verdict may have implications for the Erasmus+ programme, as MPs have argued for the project to be maintained, including the co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron. MPs who disagree with the government’s plans for leaving the EU may vote against commencing Britain’s departure. Nevertheless, the programme needs more deserved attention and as Martin said “I don’t know of any other scheme in the world, which is as successful as Erasmus in promoting cultural exchange.”

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