After closing his university in Scotland in the spring due to the coronavirus, forcing him to study online from home, Jack Boag kept his spirits up by dreaming of what to expect for the upcoming academic year: a semester to abroad at the University of Amsterdam.
But his hopes of participating in the EU-wide student exchange program known as Erasmus were dashed last week after Britain and Europe finally struck a deal. on Brexit. As part of the announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain would pull out of Erasmus, citing its high costs.
“For me, Erasmus has been the most direct benefit of European cooperation,” said Mr Boag, a 20-year-old history and international relations student at the University of Aberdeen. “Let’s go.”
For many young Britons, the decision to withdraw from Erasmus is just the most recent step in a steady erosion of those possibilities since the country voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. Once able to study and work anywhere in the European Union without a visa, young Brits will now be treated like people from any other country outside the bloc when it comes to applying for educational programs – or jobs.
The pullout is also a blow to Britain’s vaunted universities, a potent symbol of its soft power in Europe and the world, and a major source of income for the country. Britain remains second after the United States as a destination for international students, but leaving Erasmus could deter many European students who could have used the program as a route to a British education.
While it might not affect well-known institutions like Oxford or Cambridge, many lesser-known universities could suffer.
Many young people and academics had hoped Britain would continue to be part of Erasmus under a status allowing the participation of non-member states like Turkey and Norway. Mr Johnson said in January that there was “no threat to the Erasmus program.
His announcement on Thursday therefore sent shock waves through universities, angered diplomats and shocked UK students and professors who benefited from the program.
“There will be a relative loss of income for UK universities, but from a diplomatic and ambassadorial point of view, the loss is priceless,” said Seán Hand, vice president in charge of Europe at the University of Warwick, Britain’s second largest source of Erasmus students.
Britain’s departure from Erasmus, one of the European Union’s most popular programs, may be one of the most glaring signs of his divorce from the bloc, a clear signal of his vision of its future relations with its former partners.
“Erasmus opens people’s horizons and broadens their view of the world,” said John O’Brennan, professor of European studies at Maynooth University in Ireland, where he heads an Erasmus-funded European integration program. “If it isn’t the embodiment of the European ideal, I don’t know what it is.”
While exchanges will still be possible between UK and European universities through bilateral agreements, UK students will not benefit from the monthly scholarships provided by Erasmus, now officially known as Erasmus +. It will also be more difficult for academics and teachers to train or teach abroad.
Students and academics who secured funds before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 will be able to travel abroad until the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, according to Universities UK, a representative group universities across the country.
Since its introduction in 1987, Erasmus has sent millions of people abroad for study exchanges, internships or internships. About 200,000 students participate in the program each year. Elders often speak fondly of the experience, which they see as the most tangible form of European integration: a means of discovering new cultures, studying other languages and making connections throughout the world. life long.
“Erasmus is not only the student exchange program it is known for, it is also integrated into the way the European Union envisages dealing with unemployment and mobility,” said James Paul Cardwell , Professor of Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow who participated in the program in the 1990s.
In Great Britain, half of the students who study abroad do so through Erasmus. For many, it has shaped personal paths and provided an accessible way to feel connected to mainland Europe.
Ben Munster, a 25-year-old British freelance writer who studied in Italy in 2015 and has since moved to Rome, called Erasmus “the purest and most vivid expression of the Schengen dream”, referring to the travel zone without European Union passport. .
Natalia Barbour, a 22-year-old international communication student at the University of Glasgow who studied in Amsterdam for a semester, said she had wanted to attend since she was in high school. “It makes the college experience more exciting,” she says.
“Everyone wins, including the professors,” said Mark Berry, professor of music history at Royal Holloway University in London, who taught in the Netherlands via Erasmus in 2015. “I would have loved to do more when it did. still possible. “
In 2019, Great Britain welcomed more than 30,000 students and interns through the program.
“So many students come to Britain and return home with a positive experience,” said Mr Cardwell, professor at the University of Strathclyde. “It’s such a strong aspect of British soft power.”
UK lawmakers who supported the continuation of the program wrote in a report last year that the withdrawal would disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities.
They also warned that it would be difficult to replace him.
Under the current Erasmus + program 2014-2020, Britain contributed around € 1.8 billion, or $ 2.2 billion, and received € 1 billion, according to the Department of Education.
Mr Johnson said last week that a program named after mathematician Alan Turing would replace Erasmus + and allow students “to go to the best universities in the world”. From September 2021, it will fund around 35,000 students to study abroad, at an annual cost of £ 100million. UK professors and students from overseas universities would not be eligible for the program.
Britain, however, will continue to receive funding from the European Union’s research and innovation program Horizon 2020, of which it is the second recipient.
Universities UK hailed the Turing program, but other experts called the move myopic.
“It will be felt 20 years from now,” said Mr. O’Brennan of Maynooth University. “Britain has miscalculated what it receives from this program.”
Many universities have said they will keep close ties with Europe.
“European universities don’t want the link broken, for them it is very important that their students keep coming to Britain,” said Mr Hand of the University of Warwick.
For the British alumni of the program, the end of Erasmus marked the end of an era – one when they could not only easily study abroad, but also travel through Spain, learn to ski in Austria or dancing at a festival in Denmark.
“That’s the purpose of Erasmus: he taught me to appreciate wine and cheese, to take the time to socialize through lunches lasting several hours,” said Katy Jones, 28, who is gone. in France as an Erasmus student and head of the English Program in Lyon.
Mr Boag, the student at Aberdeen, who is in the third year of a four-year program, said he hoped to apply to postgraduate programs in mainland Europe, but was concerned about the obstacles additional that have not yet been clarified.
“For Erasmus and many other things, Brexit is a Pandora’s box,” he said. “We don’t know what’s inside yet because we’ve just opened it.