UK set to lose access to Erasmus exchange programme as Brexit talks struggle

British officials preparing ‘domestic’ alternative to EU programme as Barnier accuses UK of ‘cherry-picking’ 

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 15 December 2020 14:56 GMT
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Students studying inside the library of the university of Leuven, Belgium
Students studying inside the library of the university of Leuven, Belgium

British students stand to lose access to the EU's Erasmus exchange programme from next year, as talks over future UK participation go nowhere.

The Independent understands that negotiators have so far been unable to reach an agreement on the issue, which is being discussed alongside trade negotiations.

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs in a closed meeting on Monday that the UK government was trying to "cherry-pick" elements from the programme, according to a source present.

Mr Barnier told the European Parliament's UK Coordinating Group that the EU was only prepared to accept Britain's full participation in Erasmus+.

Erasmus, which was established in 1987, allows students to study abroad elsewhere in Europe, with over 4,000 participating institutions on the menu.

A UK government official told The Independent that negotiations on the issue with the EU were "ongoing" and that "it would not be appropriate for us to pre-empt the outcome of these discussions".

But British officials say they are developing a UK-wide alternative to Erasmus as a "contingency measure" in case talks tail.

Preparing the ground for such a failure, funding for a replacement programme was included in the Chancellor's spnding review 2020, though no details are available about what it might involve.

The existing Erasmus scheme is thought to be worth around £243m in income a year to the UK economy, and serves around 17,000 British young people.

In 2017, 16,561 UK students participated in the scheme, while 31,727 EU nationals from other countries came to study in Britain under it.

Education and business leaders said in March that dropping out of the programme would effectively blow a hole in the education sector and deprive young people of opportunities.

But with government priorities focused elsewhere, ministers have previously only said they would "consider options for participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided the terms are in the UK’s interests”.

Universities UK says funding is still in place to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December and that "In effect, this means staff and students can complete mobility periods and receive funding up until the end of the 2021-22 academic year."

However, staff and students involved will still have to deal with whatever new immigration restrictions are imposed on the UK. There is currently no agreement on what this will entail, with around two weeks to go.

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