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Hope On The Horizon for British Youth: Is The Door Reopening For Erasmus+?



Recently, the UK passed the final milestone in rejoining Horizon Europe, the EU's rapidly expanding funding scheme for research and innovation, as well as Copernicus, the Earth observation component of the EU's space programme. 


Michelle Donelan, the British Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, said that "being part of Horizon and Copernicus is a colossal win for the UK's science, research and business communities". Reinstating membership of this programme was long fought by former prime minister Boris Johnson, who baulked at the suggestion, fearing backlash from the Europhobic right. However, since the February Windsor Framework breakthrough under Rishi Sunak's premiership, the EU-UK relationship has improved substantially, leading to concrete progress in cooperation. 


News of the UK's reinstatement has, unsurprisingly, turned the focus on the question of whether the UK could be set to rejoin Erasmus +, the EU's flagship international exchange program for students, which has been operating since 1987, with all 27 member states currently participating as well as countries such as Turkey, Norway and Iceland. 


Recently, Young European Movement, (YEM), the UK branch of European Movement, and its partner, the British Youth Council, officially launched their campaign to rejoin Erasmus+ to resounding success, as reported by GB News, the New European, and the Evening Standard


In under a week, the petition has since reached 26,000+ signatures and includes signatories such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, SNP's Europe spokesperson, Alyn Smith MP and Plaid Cymru's Westminster group leader Liz Saville-Roberts MP. Last week; YEM hosted their campaign launch event in Parliament with Alyn Smith MP, British Youth Council representative and the UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum, Maurizio Cuttin, Colm Markey MEP and Natalie Loiseau, MEP and Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence plus Delegation to the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. 


Alyn Smith emphasised the advantages he enjoyed as part of Erasmus when he was a student, and Colm Markey urged attendees never to underestimate their activism. They were unanimous in their desire to see the UK rejoin, and agreed that the political appetite is there.

 

During its participation in Erasmus+, 17,000+ students from the UK took advantage of the scheme annually, studying and working abroad as part of their degrees, as well as apprentices, adult learners and teachers. Back in early 2020, Boris Johnson insisted that the scheme was not under threat, yet failed to reach a deal on cost of membership, and by December, had withdrawn the UK from the programme. 



The Turing Scheme: Oversold, Under Delivered


After the UK's unceremonious exit from the student mobility scheme, The Conservative government created a replacement of sorts, the Turing Scheme. However, this wasn't a like-for-like replacement, differing in that only UK students qualified to go elsewhere rather than it being a mutual relationship with the EU. 


This version also includes countries outside the EU, such as Canada and Japan. Holes quickly appeared in the substitute, however, with reports demonstrating that the Turing scheme entirely misses out on the grants for collaborative international education partnerships to the tune of €56.6 million, and students receive £22m less than under the Erasmus scheme. The new structure also brought uncertainty to students, as many reported to OpenDemocracy that they had only been informed of their Turing funding status after they had commenced their studies abroad, leaving them in difficult financial positions. 


Shorter funding cycles at 1-year grants as opposed to every three years for Erasmus+ have deepened ambiguity as students going to open days cannot be sure that Turing will even exist by the time they theoretically venture abroad. Further to this, though it is a welcome focus that Turing similarly targets those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, it is the sole focus, meaning that anyone else cannot qualify, whereas under Erasmus+, up to £1,315 was available for all participants towards travel costs.



The Economic Case to Rejoin


British universities have been hit hard by our departure from Erasmus+, as, for example, The University of Wolverhampton's funding was 60% less than under Erasmus+ in 2020. Universities UK International (UUKI) quoted Erasmus as giving a £243m net benefit to the British economy after subtracting membership costs from the £420m generated by EU students visiting the UK under the programme. But the loss isn't just fiscal; it's cultural, and this type of loss is incalculable. Generations of students are missing out on the opportunity to broaden their horizons, forge career-boosting connections and form long-lasting friendships, given that students cannot now come to the UK, but solely the inverse.



Not Mutually Exclusive


Rather than eviscerate the Turing scheme in favour of Erasmus+, however, it is essential to note that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The differences are apparent, with Turing being a far more globally oriented program, and that in itself has great benefits; UK students can access countries they could not before, with 160 members participating. It would make far more sense to rejoin Erasmus and keep Turing operating, albeit with a structure that gives students and universities more certainty on continued participation. 

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