Not only does the loss of the Erasmus scheme harm the education of Scottish students, but disadvantages lower-income students as well.
The UK government made the decision not to continue participation in the Erasmus programme as a third country when it signed the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Brussels on Christmas Eve of 2020. The gift awaiting its young people was the loss of the opportunity to study and complete traineeships fully funded in countries across Europe.
The Scottish Government had previously made clear its intent to regain a place in the programme, releasing a statement with the Welsh government signalling its ambitions. However, this now looks highly unlikely to become a reality, with a source from the European Commission telling The Glasgow Guardian in no uncertain terms that was not a possibility. Northern Ireland will remain in the scheme, due simply to the fact its residents have the right to Irish nationality, while the EU sees Scotland as a constituent nation of the UK.
This is clearly disappointing for Scotland given the fact we voted overwhelmingly against Brexit in the first place. In 2020, the UK’s last year as a member of the scheme, two of the top three sending institutions on the scheme were Scottish. The University of Glasgow sent the greatest number of students on Erasmus of any university in the UK, followed by the University of Bristol in second, and fellow Scottish institution the University of Edinburgh in third.
Despite Scotland’s clear commitment to Europe and the fact that the UK as a whole was given the option to remain in Erasmus when the Brexit deal was agreed, it is not hugely surprising that the EU does not want to make it appear easy to jump in and out of its highly praised scheme. Just as the UK could not “cherry pick” the aspects of the single market it liked, Scotland will not be able to act in some ways like an EU member state as long as it remains part of Brexit Britain.
As someone who did an Erasmus year abroad in France, I can attest that all the cringey textbook phrases used to promote the exchange programme, talking about “broadening horizons” and “experiencing a new culture” all ring true - it was undoubtedly the best opportunity I have ever had. I made the most amazing memories and friends from across Europe, and it completely changed my outlook on the world.
The UK government has set up a replacement for Erasmus in the name of the Turing scheme, which claims its advantage over Erasmus as having a global outlook rather than a merely European one. As a result, there will be less placements in Europe to make space for more international students at American or Australian universities. While Turing, like Erasmus, awards students a grant to help manage the costs of moving abroad, the point cannot be ignored that for students of a more modest background, the cost of moving a short flight away to Europe is realistically a lot more affordable than that of moving halfway across the world. In this sense, it seems the loss of Erasmus may shut off the opportunity to study abroad for students of lower-income households, and consequently these students will miss out on the advantages and career prospects that it comes with. In other words, the loss of this programme will hold working class young people back rather than giving them an accessible way to flourish.
The other main problem with the Turing scheme is that unlike Erasmus, it is not a real exchange programme in the literal sense of the word. The UK government will not be funding grants for foreign students to come and study at UK universities; money will only be spent on outgoing British students. This clearly takes away the cultural enrichment at the heart of Erasmus, and fewer international voices is sure to make UK universities less open-minded places, which is surely what a university should be all about.
However, the reality is that under whichever option - UK in Erasmus, Scotland in Erasmus, or the Turing scheme - studying abroad will never be the same again. I am now preparing to go away for a term abroad in Spain, this time after the official exit of Britain from Europe. The contrast in difficulty and cost brought in due to visa costs this time is astounding. I have spent over £400 on the visa process alone and spent hours trying to work my way through what is a complex process. Frankly, when the UK left the EU, we lost the ability to travel, work and study freely across 27 countries and all the opportunities, experiences and life lessons this provides. Today’s students do not have the same opportunities the last generation of students did, no matter what you call a study abroad scheme.
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