The popular student exchange programme Erasmus could be at risk for British students as a result of the vote to leave the European Union (EU), it has been warned.
Under the Erasmus scheme, UK students can study at European universities for up to a year, with European students being able to do the same in the UK.
Although the scheme is not limited to EU member states, Ruth Sinclair-Jones, the programme’s UK director, speaking to The Guardian said, “We face a sad moment of uncertainty, after 30 years of this enrichment of so many lives.”
“In the long term, it’s an unknown situation. We will continue with our plans until 2017 but after that we have to wait,” she continued.
Following Ms Sinclair-Jones’ comments, David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, refused to guarantee Britain’s continued membership of the programme.
In a written statement to an MP’s question, Mr Davis would only say that there would be “no change to those currently participating in, or about to start,” the scheme.
It has been speculated that Britain’s participation in Erasmus could be dependent on whether or not freedom of movement continues following Britain’s exit from the EU.
A Universities UK officer told The Guardian that the UK could follow a similar model to Norway, which is a participant in the programme without being a member of the EU, saying however that “Norway has accepted freedom of movement as part of its relationship to the EU, and we don’t know if Britain will do that.”
Commenting on the developments, Charlotte Andrews, president of the St Andrews Students’ Association said, “St Andrews will always remain an outward looking university, with a welcoming and diverse community. Studying abroad and the presence of international students here brings immense opportunities and benefits to all and will continue to be supported, regardless of the future of the excellent Erasmus scheme in the UK.
“The University has several scholarships specific to Study Abroad opportunities and is also launching a new fund, the Moncrieff Travelling Scholarship, for science students studying abroad.
“Until a deal is agreed upon, the exact impact of the recent British EU referendum in many areas will be difficult to gauge, including upon the Erasmus scheme.
“What is guaranteed is that Erasmus activities will continue this academic year, and that the lobbying group Universities UK will be pushing for access to the Erasmus scheme to be included in the deal between the UK and the EU. Hopefully the UK government will recognise the value of the scheme and ensure our students retain access to it.”
Halima Mohammed, the Association’s Member for Racial Equality also expressed hope that Britain would continue to be a member of the Erasmus programme, “The result of the Brexit vote came as a shock especially since after the vote more reports of outright racism have surfaced which most likely gave a lot of international students a sense of fear and uncertainty for their wellbeing in the United Kingdom.
Describing the prospect of Britain exiting the Erasmus scheme as a “terrible reality” Ms Mohammed went on to say “I do hope the UK will be allowed to stay in the Erasmus program because those who will be taking part in the program are the ones who voted as a majority to remain in the EU therefore I do not think they should be impacted by result of the Brexit. Because most of Scotland including Fife voted for a majority to remain, I do believe racism may not increase around our community however it may increase and xenophobia will resurface around the United Kingdom.
Ms Mohammed said that any students who experience racism should not “…hesitate to contact me at email@example.com ,” while that she “will be holding safe spaces throughout the academic year to ensure we open up the conversation of race to everyone and those from racial minorities have a safe place to open up about any and everything.”
James Bundy, a St Andrews student who campaigned to leave the European Union told The Saint that he believed that the UK should leave the Erasmus programme.
In the past year alone, Erasmus has allowed 15,600 UK students to study throughout Europe with their fees being paid for them. In exchange to this, the UK has seen 27,000 EU students come to our universities to study with their fees being paid for as well,” he said.
Going on, he added, “Would I like to see this programme continue for Britain? In an ideal world yes but with the current agreements in place, I feel that Britain will be best served outside the Erasmus Programme.
“As it stands, to continue in the Erasmus programme, Britain would still need to agree with the freedom of movement. On aspect of my vote to leave was because it would allow sovereignty to return to the British parliament, including immigration policy. I am in favour of controlled immigration but the key word is controlled. If the UK is unable to retain access to Erasmus with controlled immigration I believe it would be the correct decision to leave the Erasmus programme
“It is important to remember that in 2013-14, over 30,000 UK students studied abroad. This meant around 50% of UK students who studied outside the UK actually studied outside the Erasmus programme.
“This clearly shows that UK students will be able to study abroad outside the Erasmus programme and that Britain would not be shutting the door on our University partners abroad. Just with our trade deals, Britain would have an opportunity to strike up bilateral study deals with countries. This would potentially leave British students with greater opportunities to study abroad than we currently have under Erasmus.”