When it signed the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Brussels on Christmas Eve 2020, the UK government decided not to participate in the Erasmus programme as a third country. The gift that awaited its young people was the loss of the option to study and complete traineeships in nations across Europe that were fully subsidised.
The Scottish Government has already stated its intention to re-enter the scheme, issuing a joint statement with the Welsh government signalling its goals. However, this now appears to be exceedingly doubtful, with a source from the European Commission telling The Glasgow Guardian categorically that it was not a consideration. Northern Ireland will continue in the union merely because its citizens have the right to Irish nationality, but the EU considers Scotland to be a component member of the United Kingdom.
This is obviously unfortunate for Scotland, given that we decisively voted against Brexit in the first place. Two of the top three sending universities on the plan in 2020, the UK’s final year as a participant of the system, were Scottish. The University of Glasgow sent the most students on Erasmus of any university in the UK, followed by the University of Bristol in second and the University of Edinburgh in third.
Considering Scotland’s evident commitment to Europe and the fact that the UK as a whole was given the option to stay in Erasmus when the Brexit deal was done, it’s not unexpected that the EU doesn’t want to make it appear easy to jump in and out of its highly appreciated initiative. Scotland will not be able to function in some respects like an EU member state as long as it remains a part of Brexit Britain, just as the UK could not “cherry pick” the portions of the single market it liked.
Somebody who spent a year abroad on Erasmus in France, I can attest that all of the cringe textbook clichés used to advertise the exchange programme, such as “expanding horizons” and “experiencing a new culture,” ring true – it was without a doubt the best chance I have ever had. I made the most incredible memories and friends from all around Europe, and it entirely transformed my perspective on the world.
The UK government has established the Turing scheme as an alternative for Erasmus, claiming that it has a worldwide perspective rather than only a European one. As a result, fewer placements will be available in Europe to make room for more international students at American or Australian colleges. Although Turing, like Erasmus, provides students with a scholarship to assist them to manage the costs of moving overseas, it cannot be overstated that for students from lower-income families, the cost of moving a short flight away to Europe is far more affordable than travelling halfway across the world. In this respect, it appears that the loss of Erasmus may eliminate the option for students from low-income families to study abroad, and as a result, these students will miss out on the benefits and professional opportunities that come with it. In other words, the abolition of this programme will stifle the growth of working-class youth rather than provide them with a pathway to success.
The other major issue with the Turing method is that, unlike Erasmus, it is not a true exchange programme in the traditional sense. The UK government will not sponsor subsidies for foreign students to study at UK universities; funds will only be spent on departing British students. This certainly undermines the cultural richness that is at the heart of Erasmus, and fewer international voices will undoubtedly make UK universities less open-minded, which is surely what a university should be all about. However, regardless of which option is chosen – the UK in Erasmus, Scotland in Erasmus, or the Turing programme – studying abroad will never be the same again.
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