FRANCE’S eyes will today be on the first round of the presidential election – and whoever ultimately wins that race will have the task of navigating a strained relationship with the UK, demonstrated by – among other areas – the challenges faced by students.

The Erasmus scheme is an exchange programme supporting students in moving between European institutions which Scotland was dragged out of as a result of Brexit.

The effect of the end of Erasmus is being felt across the UK, as universities in countries such as the Republic of Ireland become a more attractive destination, according to staff at France’s embassy in the UK.

The UK gave out a record-high 432,279 Sponsored study visas for the year 2021/2022 – but European students were not the beneficiaries. Only 22,714 visas were granted to European Economic Area and Swiss students, which amounts to less than 5% in total. On the other hand, countries such as India have seen the number of visas triple since 2019.

“There is a collapse, very clearly, we can see that there is a very significant decrease [in students coming to the UK],” confirms Dr Minh-Hà Pham, counsellor for science and technology at the French embassy in London.

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The UK was the second-top destination for French students, and the end of the programme left them disappointed.

“Unfortunately, it’s not our choice,” says Dr Pham on the end of Erasmus.

“If we had to choose we would certainly not have done that. It’s a loss and very damaging – we are absolutely convinced of it.”

For Europeans students, Brexit comes with a lot of added expenses: a passport, a visa, insurance and an English test: the IELTS.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, the worst is yet to come with the remainder of the Erasmus programme’s financing finishing up at the end 2022 for many countries.

Damien Vialle, the French embassy’s attaché for higher education in charge of students’ mobility programs, explains that “the agreements continue until spring 2023, there was an extension of one year because of the crisis of Covid”.

Students will be prevented from receiving scholarships, and the UK will become an international destination like all others – the fear is that it will only be accessible to the richest.

Dr Pham says: “Coming to the UK will become more expensive with Brexit. Globally, for the French coming to the UK, it completely changes the deal.”

She says the situation is very new for both countries: “Even the British authorities, everyone is finding out a bit.”

Scotland and Wales have shown a willingness to continue to take part in Erasmus, but Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has ruled that out.

There is a clear fall in the number of European students coming to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow: where in 2018 almost 40% of international students were Europeans, in 2022 only 19% are.

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The University of Angers in France, thanks to the Erasmus programme, had different partnerships with universities in Scotland. In 2018/2019, Scotland welcomed 24 students out of the 51

that were moving to the United Kingdom – it was a very popular destination.

“The current political situation of relations between France, Europe in general and the UK at the moment are extremely tense,” Dr Pham says. “So we can’t talk about anything, between the stories of fishing, the Northern Irish protocol, the submarines… There is a fundamental misunderstanding which means that for the moment there is no dialogue, the dialogue is not going through.”

French universities are now looking at other destinations where the request of studying in English can be fulfilled.

Dr Pham adds: “Some universities say: ‘well, since we can’t pay and it’s too expensive and we can’t go to the United Kingdom easily anymore, we’ll fall back on other Anglo-Saxon countries nearby – the Republic of Ireland then becomes very attractive.

“They are also thinking of other countries where there are very good English courses, so that could be the Netherlands or Germany for example. There would be a sort of transfer to countries where the training in English is of good quality.”

Dr Pham warns: “We will not be able to replace Erasmus.”

“We are in a discussion with our ministry, with the ministry of higher education and research. We will not be able to make up for Erasmus … but perhaps find other types of bilateral agreements which allow mobility – certainly not at the level of Erasmus.”