ONE of the problems of hard Brexit is that most people think it won’t really affect them.
Well, if you are a student wanting to go to the EU to study or a European student wanting to study here, there is most certainly a threat from a hard Brexit.
One of the most influential philosophers in European history was Erasmus of Rotterdam, and it is his name which has been given to the hugely successful student exchange programme of the EU.
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The Erasmus+ programme follows on from similar schemes promoted by the EU since the 1980s. It is quite simply the largest exchange programme for students in the world, and more than three million students have been on the programme or its predecessors, some 200,000 of them from the UK.
Students who join the Erasmus Programme study for at least three months or possibly up to a full academic year in another European country, with countries outside the EU such as Switzerland taking part.
The programme has been credited with changing the culture and attitudes of a generation of students for the better. Yet Erasmus is now under threat from a hard Brexit, and here’s why.
Mentioning Switzerland shows what might happen should the Tory Government insist on a hard Brexit with tight immigration controls.
For Switzerland has been suspended as a participant in the Erasmus programme for nearly two years following a referendum which voted to limit the immigration of EU citizens into Switzerland – sounds familiar?
As a consequence, Swiss students are not able to apply for the Erasmus+ programme and European students are not able to spend time at a Swiss university under that programme.
Being the practical people they are, the Swiss brought in a replacement, the Swiss European Mobility Programme or SEMP.
Switzerland now offers student exchange as an Erasmus+ “partner country” rather than a full member, by arranging a series of bilateral agreements with individual European universities.
It’s cost the Swiss Government plenty – as it no longer receives EU funding, last year the Swiss Government had to pay £17m for a record 10,781 Swiss students and foreigners on study and vocational training placements.
Last year, 4,789 Swiss students travelled to higher education institutions elsewhere and 3,861 came to Switzerland, neatly but expensively getting around the suspension from Erasmus.
Could the same thing happen here? In 2015-2016, Scotland’s higher education system gained around £6m in Erasmus+ funding, and around 1,600 students from Scotland go to Europe through Erasmus+ annually. Policy analyst Colin Imrie pointed out in a EU Futures article that the Scottish Government actively promotes Erasmus+ to raise the profile of Scotland as a place to live, work and study in key overseas markets and to showcase the best of Scottish higher education to the world.
Imrie wrote: “As well as major programmes in universities, the Scottish Government also uses Erasmus to promote teacher exchanges in the context of its policy to promote foreign language teaching in primary schools, with some 250 teachers attending immersion courses in France and Spain in recent years.”
He added: “Many of those consulted for the Scottish Parliament report on Scottish attitudes to Brexit, published on January 20, were concerned that the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ programmes may cease, which would impact negatively on UK students and professionals’ opportunities to develop foreign language skills, different perspectives on business, social sciences, engineering and sciences and valuable international experience they can draw on later in their career.”
In a hard Brexit, however, with immigration rules tightened, Erasmus+ for Scotland would be under serious threat.
Imrie concluded: “This is the therefore now the time when those who wish to preserve the benefits of student and staff mobility need to make their case to Edinburgh and London (and Cardiff and Belfast) of the importance of Erasmus and freedom of movement for staff and students more generally.”