The Young European Movement, in partnership with European Movement UK and the British Youth Council, is calling on the UK Government to restore Britain’s membership of the Erasmus+ Programme, which ended abruptly in 2020. Since leaving the programme, the number of European students studying in the UK has collapsed, funding for the youth sector has fallen and Britain’s cultural connection to its neighbours is waning.
On Tuesday 12th December, the Young European Movement, in partnership with European Movement UK, hosted a webinar to discuss the crucial need to rejoin Erasmus+, the campaign strategy, what’s happening next and how you can get more involved.
The discussion was chaired by Klajdi Selimi, President of the Young European Movement and board member of European Movement UK, and the panel was enriched by the knowledge and experiences of esteemed speakers. Hywel Ceri Jones, head of the Commission's first-ever department for education and youth policies in 1973, as well as the Commission's Director for education, training and youth; Lord Storey, Lib Dem’s Education Spokesperson in the House of Lords, Ray Kirtley, Chair of UK Global Learning Association for Schools, Steve Barnes, a chartered psychologist with the British Psychological Society with 12 years of lecturing experience across further and higher education in the UK, and Co-Editor of the journal “Mental Health and Digital Technologies”, Véronique Martin, co-author of "In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK", and a student on on the first ever year of Erasmus and Amelia Hughes, Comms and Campaigns Officer at EM UK, who enrolled on various Erasmus+ schemes pre-Brexit whilst a student in the North-East of England.
During an hour of engaging discussion, the six speakers shared their vision of the Erasmus programme and stressed the need for the United Kingdom to rejoin it which is essential for the young generation.
Hywel Ceri Jones, who was a key player in the Erasmus programme’s construction, gave us his support in our campaign, considering it important, and wishing for its success: “ We need to be successful with this because it has been a damaging massive loss for the UK, it was an unnecessary and unwisely decision, we need to get back! It is a real pity that the government did not join Erasmus at the same time as it joined the Horizon research programme, as they are complementary, it was a missed opportunity but it’s not too late! “.
As for Ray Kirtley, he showed the benefits that Erasmus has had on schools during all these years and what they have lost since leaving Erasmus+. Indeed, he stressed that Erasmus is not just universities and higher education, it is a mistake to focus on that. Schools represented 3 billion pounds of the Erasmus budget and this sector lost a lot and, Erasmus had huge educational benefits for schools.
He cited in particular the loss of the eTwinning action which is an initiative of the European Commission that aims to encourage European schools to collaborate using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) by providing the necessary infrastructure (online tools, services, support). Teachers registered in the eTwinning action are enabled to form partnerships and develop collaborative, pedagogical school projects in any subject area with teachers from other European countries. “ Re-entering the eTwinning action would be a good beginning and a low-cost way to, then, rejoin the Erasmus programme”.
He also took the example of the job shadowing action which allowed the mobility of teachers between European schools. In particular, this permitted them to refresh their language skill.
Alongside the loss of staff mobility, the UK also lost pupil mobility. Turing doesn’t offer reciprocal mobility projects anymore. In addition, Erasmus offered a considerable advantage for CVs, because having taken part in Erasmus proves skills of collaboration, not to mention language skills.
Lord Storey gave us a Westminster perspective on this subject. He considers that Erasmus was beneficial to the development of a better-educated multilingual and more employable generation of students. Indeed, 80% of students who joined the program found a job within 3 months after their graduation. “Clearly, the investment in the Erasmus programme is beneficial and helps students achieve better outcomes and career choices”.
Students who have completed Erasmus+ have better opportunities during their professional careers.
Moreover, Erasmus is a unique opportunity for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, the Erasmus scholarship is offered to students who would not have the financial resources and opportunity to travel and be exposed to other cultures and languages. He also recalled the positive economic impact of the program thanks to the free movement of students. Erasmus also allowed universities to gain a certain reputation and the UK to gain diplomatic soft power, as it used to be one of the most popular destinations for European students.
“Now, more than ever, we have to design a post-Brexit Britain and this campaign is an opportunity to do that! “ He sees the next general election as an opportunity to bring Erasmus back. “If we did it for the Horizon program, there is no reason why we can’t do it for Erasmus!”
Steve Barnes described how universities were impacted by the withdrawal of the Erasmus programme. He thus insisted on the way Erasmus allowed collaboration and exchanges between universities, which has now become very complicated. Students who completed Erasmus did not only return with academic knowledge but also with new social and cultural abilities, it has increased their horizon and their perspectives not only on their studies but more broadly on their professional careers, this was very impactful.
Economically, he agreed with Lord Storey, the popularity of British universities was attractive and this meant that the United Kingdom received more students than it sent, which brought an income gain on the territory, beneficial to the local economy. The Turing scheme does not cover many elements that Erasmus took into account, such as the visa, the housing cost. Now, participants must prove that they have a certain amount of money in their bank account to show that they can sustain themselves during their stay. He also noted the difficulties students face in accessing Turing funding. “ We miss out, not just on students but on social and cultural exchange and wider opportunities to collaborate”.
Véronique Martin was one of the first to take part in the Erasmus+ back in 1984. “Thanks to Erasmus, ordinary people like me have been given the opportunity to access an experience previously opened to rich people with connections. I felt like I was part of something big, Erasmus made me European, EU is my home. Erasmus is the beating heart of the European project, students realise they have so much in common, creating strong human and personal ties is the best way to ensure collaboration and peace. That Europe of people is what makes the European project so unique and powerful.”
As for Amelia Hughes, she stated that it is important to remember that Erasmus is not just about universities, big cities and it is definitely not a middle-class issue. Indeed, she gave another perspective, on how Erasmus allowed many children, even those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, to go to another European country to discover another culture and learn a new language. The program in which she participated was completely free, which meant children no matter their financial condition, could participate in this life-changing exchange.
Klajdi Selimi concluded the webinar by recalling that Erasmus and the campaign led by YEM and EM UK is not a geopolitical issue, it’s a matter connected to the general public good, especially for the UK, it’s a part of British influence, our soft power, our economic growth and youth opportunity.
Erasmus offers young people a lot of opportunities and it should always come back to what we can do to help young people. We as organisations are urging you to embrace Erasmus, this is a new bridge with Europe and a new way that the UK and Europe can collaborate and provide some stability to young people in an unstable world.
So if you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to sign our petition, because there is every reason to get the UK back into Erasmus and together, we will! This is only the beginning. It’s vital that as many of us as possible speak out and show this government that they can't ignore the next generation any longer.
A warm thank you to all the speakers that attended the webinar for sharing their knowledges and experiences and thank you very much to everyone who attended and participated we hope to see you at our next event, to be announced shortly.
If you missed the webinar you can watch it here.