What if the UK leaves Erasmus?

Lucin Gheorghica (left) and Sarah, life science students at Brunel University, 30 km west of London, January 21.
Lucin Gheorghica (left) and Sarah, life science students at Brunel University, 30 km west of London, January 21. ED ALCOCK / MYOP FOR "THE WORLD"

This is a subject on which London and Brussels should theoretically easily agree. Erasmus +, the exchange program for students, apprentices, teachers and researchers, is unanimously in favor. After Brexit, which will be reality on Saturday 1st February, the British government wants to continue to be part of it. The European Union (EU) is also in favor of this, especially since several non-EU countries are already part of the program (Norway, Turkey, Serbia, etc.). It suffices to finalize the modalities of the participation of the United Kingdom, and in particular its financial contribution.

And yet doubts are accumulating. Erasmus + beneficiaries who are currently in the UK (or Britons who are in the EU) will be able to complete their program. However, nothing is certain for the 2020-2021 academic year. We will have to negotiate. The coming year promises to be politically explosive. London and Brussels must agree on the future free trade agreement and a derailment of the negotiations which would take everything in its path, including the retention in Erasmus +, cannot be excluded.

Declining candidates

"I am skeptical", admits Paul James Cardwell, professor of law at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, very active in Erasmus exchanges and who himself benefited from such a program in Lille. Faced with uncertainty, the number of students from his institution to apply to leave next year is decreasing. The candidacies are not closed but Mr. Cardwell foresees a "Significant decline", in particular for the second semester 2020-2021.

On January 9, the House of Commons experienced a micro-event. In the margins of the law to ratify the EU withdrawal agreement, the opposition tabled an amendment which would have legally forced the British government to remain in Erasmus + after Brexit. The deputies overwhelmingly rejected it, to counter a political maneuver that had little to do with the law being debated. But this apparent rejection of Erasmus + forced the British executive to be reassuring once again: "The government is committed to continuing university relations between the EU and the United Kingdom, including through the next Erasmus + program, if it is in our interest to do so"said a spokesperson.

Read also Erasmus + program is always attracting more students

On the positive side, London and Brussels have managed to keep the program in place, despite the political showdown for the past three years. In March 2019, when Brussels feared a hard Brexit, emergency measures, say "Quota", had been adopted by the European Council to save this emblematic achievement of European integration. The agreement finally reached with London relieved Brussels and everything continued as before.


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