Erasmus: What is the exchange scheme and why is the UK leaving?

As a part of the post-Brexit trade deal, it has been announced that the UK will no longer participate in the Erasmus study exchange scheme from the 1 January 2021.

All 27 member states currently participate in the scheme, in addition to 27 non-EU countries including Norway, Iceland, Tunisia and Israel. 

Boris Johnson stated that “it was a tough decision” to leave the scheme, but that it was an “extremely expensive” programme to be a part of. 

What is the Erasmus scheme?

Established in 1987, the Erasmus scheme was launched to allow students from EU member states to study abroad for a set part of their degree, often either one semester or one academic year.

Participating countries and institutions put money into the Erasmus pot, which grants to allow students to study abroad. 

In 2019, 54,619 students and trainees from the UK participated in the scheme, with the top receiving countries being Spain, France, and Germany. 

The scheme was designed to “help students from all ages and backgrounds develop and share knowledge and experience at institutions and organisations in different countries”.

Why is the UK leaving the scheme?

Boris Johnson announced that the UK would no longer be a participant of the scheme after the Brexit transition period concludes on 1 January 2021. 

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, noted this decision as one of his “regrets” of the deal agreed on Thursday. 

Whilst the prime minister was brief in his explanation as to this withdrawal, he presented it as a largely economic choice, founded on his description of the scheme as “extremely expensive” and a deal that “the UK exchequer lost out” on. 

What happens next? 

Mr Johnson has stated that exchange programmes and study abroad opportunities will not cease with this decision. 

In the place of the Erasmus scheme, the PM announced a new  “Turing scheme”, named the famous codebreaker. Mr Johnson said this would give students the opportunities to travel to “the best universities in the world” and not just universities in Europe. 

On the note of those students looking forwards to already agreed exchanges, Universities UK says funding is still in place to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December and that “in effect, this means staff and students can complete mobility periods and receive funding up until the end of the 2021-22 academic year”. 

However, staff and students will have to make arrangements to engage within the immigration restrictions newly to be placed upon UK travellers as citizens of a non-EU country.

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