"Why say no to association?" - Dr Anne Corbett on rejoining Erasmus+

Published on March 15, 2024

Why in this pre-election period are the big political parties in England not following their counterparts in Scotland and Wales in calling for UK association with Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport.  

Smaller parties have been showing the way. 

Yet the politicians, who could push the issue, appear not to have given it much thought. Few even know how Erasmus+ differs from the original Erasmus programme designed for higher education students.  

This is the time to shake up their ideas. 

Erasmus+ is a hugely more ambitious programme than the original Erasmus. Association would offer a wide range of participants the chance to share, even for a short time, in the lives of their peer groups from across Europe, both in EU member states and in reciprocal visits to the UK, just as they did when the UK was in the EU.  

The programme encompasses the entire education sector, plus youth movements and sports clubs, their teachers and trainers, professional staff and administrators.  

Erasmus+ is also demonstrably inclusive. It works on the principle that no one should be barred by financial or personal circumstances from an experience of learning in its broadest sense. Application forms need to demonstrate the intention to involve groups who might otherwise be excluded.  

There are many human stories to bring the experience of an exchange alive. Here are some from the time when the UK was in the EU.  

There is so much positive feedback from these experiences. ‘It created a lasting impact….an unforgettable experience... enabled us to acquire career-boosting skills…we gained information and knowledge from discussion and dialogue with fellow European students …. The synergies are created at all levels from implementation in the curriculum to enhancing town twinning’. 

Such experiences could be renewed without legal or regulatory implications. 

During the Brexit negotiations, the EU and the UK agreed a basis for association, only to have it spurned by Boris Johnson. 

Objections would come from the Treasury should a new application go ahead. Yet there are obvious answers in cost-benefit terms. The UK was always a popular destination and incoming groups bring with them their spending power, often in poorer areas of the country.  

There are powerful answers in equity. 

An association with Erasmus+ as a non-EU programme country, joining Norway, Turkey and Serbia as well as the member states, and neighbouring partner countries, would enhance the soft power image of the UK as it seeks to improve post-Brexit relations with the EU.  

Forthcoming election manifestos offer the chance to promise a good deed for a fractured UK society.  

Why say no to association? 

If you haven't already support the Young European Movement's campaign by signing their Embrace Erasmus+ petition today. 

Dr Anne Corbett

Senior Associate at LSE Consulting at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research interests centre on European higher education and Brexit.  

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