Withdrawal Agreement Bill – Erasmus clause and what the Westminster vote means

Issued: Fri, 10 Jan 2020 16:32:00 GMT

On Wednesday, 8 January, MPs voted against the new Clause 10 of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which would have required the UK government to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the Erasmus+ programme. The outcome of that vote has generated considerable comment and concern about the future of the Erasmus programme for students and staff in universities across the UK. I should like to take this opportunity to offer some clarification of the situation, writes Rachel Sandison, Vice Principal External Relations.Rachel Sandison 650

Although the Commons vote last week means that negotiations on Erasmus+ will not be included in legislation, there is nothing to prevent the Government from still seeking full association.

The current Erasmus+ programme runs from 2014 – 2020. The 2020 call for applications is not affected by the vote in Parliament last week: UK organisations can apply as normal for funding in advance of the 2020 application deadlines, and the next Erasmus programme covers the period 2021 – 2027.

The UK Government cannot commit to wanting full association yet because the new Erasmus+ programme – both its content and budget – have not been finalised. No future associated programme country can start negotiations on accessing the programme before the content and budget are finalised in Brussels which, I understand, will not be before this summer. This is not specific to the UK – this applies to all countries that have to negotiate access. Furthermore, it is not yet clear what the UK’s terms of association will be, and until those are clear the UK cannot commit to wanting to associate with Erasmus.

A Department for Education spokesperson offered some grounds for optimism last week following the Commons vote: “The Government is committed to continuing the academic relationship between the UK and the EU, including through the next Erasmus+ programme if it is in our interests to do so. The vote [last night] does not change that. As we enter negotiations with the EU, we want to ensure that UK and European students can continue to benefit from each other’s world-leading education systems.”

Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International, has also commented: “The public response to last night's vote, and to UUKi's #SupportStudyAbroad campaign, shows just how important the Erasmus+ programme is to thousands across the country and we urge the Government to consider this as it moves forward. We are pleased that the Universities Minister has confirmed that the Government is still open to participation in the programme, and that this will form part of future negotiations with the EU.”

I echo those sentiments wholeheartedly and give my assurance that the University of Glasgow – alongside other universities – will lobby the Government for continued participation in Erasmus.

Our students have benefited enormously from Erasmus programmes and significant research has shown that students undertaking student mobility have: improved academic attainment; enhanced employability prospects; and develop important language and inter-personal skills that build confidence and raise aspiration. Glasgow itself has also benefited hugely from the contribution European students have made to our community.

If we were no longer to participate in Erasmus it would be hugely detrimental to our student body who would lose a valuable and in-demand opportunity. We urge the Government to negotiate our continued participation and, failing that, to establish a new national scheme to support our international agenda and provide funded student mobility opportunities. At the University of Glasgow we will continue to partner with European universities and foster bilateral relationships that will help to facilitate sustained student and staff exchange.

The current year’s funding, 2019-20, has been confirmed under transition arrangements. The 2019 Erasmus grant will end on 31 May 2021 so the predicted numbers are for a period of 18 months and are for European Exchanges only: Students (study) – 577; students (work) 225; staff mobility – 81.

We also benefit from Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility grants: the 2018 grant is for a two-year period and will end in July 2020; the 2019 grant is for a three-year period and will end in July 2022. We expect 176 student mobilities and 182 staff mobilities under the 2019 grant, supporting exchanges to and from the Balkans, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Ukraine Russia, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Nigeria, and Brazil. The University of Glasgow is the most successful institution in the UK in terms of leading and attracting funding for Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters programmes - we now lead on seven within the College of Social Sciences and we shall continue to co-ordinate these programmes at least until the end of 2020.  Our commitment to this important part of the wider Erasmus programme remains undiminished.

UoG joined the UUK’s stand Out campaign very early on too to further promote the benefits of mobility and lobby the Government to either continue the UK’s participation in the Erasmus+ programme or at least create an alternative national mobility programme. https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/International/go-international/stand-out