A vote in Parliament against seeking to continue full membership of the Erasmus+ programme has left the UK’s involvement in the scheme after Brexit uncertain.
MPs voted by 344 to 254 against a second reading of New Clause 10 that would have required the government to negotiate continuing full membership of the study abroad programme after the UK leaves the European Union (EU).
The amendment was tabled by the Liberal Democrats and was voted down by Conservative and DUP MPs on Wednesday 8 January.
The Erasmus+ programme is a scheme by the EU that provides exchange opportunities to students studying at universities in Europe. 53% of UK university students who study abroad do so through the scheme.
16,561 UK students participated in Erasmus+ in 2017 and 31,727 EU nationals came to the UK as part of the programme the same year.
MPs have voted against New Clause 10 being read a second time, by 344 votes to 254.
This new clause would have required the Government to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the EU’s Erasmus+ education and youth programme.
— UK House of Commons (@HouseofCommons) January 8, 2020
Education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Layla Moran, tabled the clause. She told The Independent following the vote that it should be a “no-brainer” for the government to commit to Erasmus+.
“Universities warn that no UK-led scheme could ever match the reputation and extensive partnerships that Erasmus has to offer. But rather than voting for our amendment, Conservative MPs are willing to let ministers negotiate away our membership of Erasmus if they think they could do a better job,” she said.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, also criticised the result of the vote. She said: “Wilfully abandoning Erasmus+ would be a worryingly closed-minded move.
“The many benefits from having the opportunity to study abroad – from boosting employment prospects, to learning other languages and from other cultures – are well documented.”
Jane Racz, director of the Erasmus+ programme in the UK said: “The Erasmus+ programme has delivered and continues to deliver significant benefits to the UK and we need to ensure the positives of the programme are not lost as we move into the next stage”.
An Italian and Spanish student at Warwick, currently studying abroad in Europe as part of the Erasmus+ scheme, told The Boar they were “gutted” that the amendment had been voted down.
They said: “As someone who is currently benefiting from this once in a lifetime opportunity, the program has definitely opened so many opportunities and to think that future generations would be deprived of this opportunity is heartbreaking.”
The program has definitely opened so many opportunities and to think that future generations would be deprived of this opportunity is heartbreaking
– Italian and Spanish student at Warwick
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 31 January. After this date, there will be a transition period until the end of 2020, during which the UK’s relationship with the EU will continue to be like it is now.
This includes the Erasmus+ scheme and funding for programmes in the current academic year will continue as before.
Universities UK is advising its members to continue applying for the Erasmus+ funding round which closes in February as they usually would and is calling on the government to commit to continued funding through its Support Study Abroad campaign, whether this be via Erasmus or a new national scheme.
A report by the House of Lords EU Committee has warned though that the benefits of the current Erasmus+ programme would be difficult to replicate with a national programme.
The report also outlined that vocational education and training would stop and that leaving the EU’s scheme would “disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities”.
According to the BBC, there have been suggestions that it may become easier for non-EU countries to participate in Erasmus+ but they would have to pay to do so.
There also may not be time for the government to negotiate the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ before the start of the next cycle, which runs from 2021 to 2027, if it decides it wants to be a part of the programme after 2021.
This means there could be a period when such programmes are not available for UK students.
Last night’s vote- game playing by opposition parties- does not end or prevent the UK participating in @EUErasmusPlus after leaving the EU. We remain open to participation and this will be part of future negotiations with the EU- we highly value international student exchanges
— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) January 9, 2020
Following the rejection of the amendment, the Department for Education told the BBC: “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”.
Both education minister Gavin Williamson and universities minister Chris Skidmore were among the MPs who voted against the amendment.
Mr Skidmore has said the amendment is “game-playing by opposition parties”, and insisted that the UK remains “open” to continued participation in the scheme, subject to negotiations with the remaining EU members.
The government’s Junior Brexit minister, James Duddridge has also said that in the future the UK will be “open to maintaining and expanding cooperation in education” with the EU.
He added that the talks set to begin in March on the “future relationship” between the EU and the UK will look at the possibility of the UK taking part in exchange programmes.