Funding, Brexit… the challenges faced by Erasmus

Published 2019-07-04 09:58

The European Students’ Union has released its policy paper and it is demanding for Erasmus to be made more accessible. also analyses the challenges faced by students interested in the Erasmus program ahead of Brexit.

No more fees on visas for students settling abroad as part of the Erasmus program, better advice and support to relevant institutions, especially for accommodation abroad as well as equal fees for EU and non-EU students… these were the main demands of the European Students’ Union in the policy document 2019. This policy document which comes out every four years.

For the ESU, visa and permit applications are tedious and can get very expensive and they should be reviewed so as to make accessible for all students who wish to apply for Erasmus programmes. Not only should the fees be reviewed, according to the ESU but the procedures should also be made easier. Governments should also be given a specific delay to reply to visa applicants after their application.

The ESU also suggested that the grants offered by Erasmus be reviewed and adjusted to the living costs of the specific destinations. In the same line of action, the ESU asked that foreign students are also given the same workers rights as home students so that ability to cater for one’s financial needs is the same for everyone. This would also promote accessibility to the programmes.

The Brexit shadow

The Erasmus program, for all its academic and cultural worth, is also not immune to the vagaries of Brexit negotiations. The UK government published guidance notes on the program in 2018 and has since published an update. According to the current policy, the government will fund students whilst the UK is still in the EU, provided UK institutions can participate in the program. However, as is the case with most Brexit caveats, the “if” word can take epic proportions, especially in the case of cash-strapped students unable to rely on alternative sources of funding. With no clear funding guarantee, students across Europe have had to review or shelve their plans to study abroad. Luckily, some universities have demonstrated a willingness to fund exchange programs themselves, and the University of Newcastle is a case in point – in order to minimize any disruption and to avoid students finding themselves in financial precarity, the institution has pledged to cover costs for students involved in the program. However, on the other end of the spectrum Spain and Norway have advised students to pick destinations other than the UK.

The UK played a key role in the Erasmus program and the allure of its universities, coupled with its many student-friendly cities made it a prime destination for European students. In a similar vein, British students were keen to join the scheme as it enabled them to further their language skills and to discover life in Europe through a simple and cost-effective mechanism. There is no doubt that Erasmus without the UK will be significantly less appealing, and in an ideal world, the UK could be part of the program according to the Norwegian template. In the meantime, however, a well-oiled machine for cultural exchange and youth development has suddenly shuddered to a halt in the UK and beyond.

Over 15, 000 in a year

For many years, Erasmus, which is short for “European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students”, facilitated student exchanges across the continent. Established in 1987, the program was a huge success and its scope was enhanced in 2014 to offer increased mobility and cooperation and to streamline funding and management. Popularized by the French movie “l’Auberge Espagnole”, Erasmus constituted a formidable way for students to engage in affordable cross-cultural exchanges by spending a year in a different country. The scheme enables students to attend classes at universities which were particularly strong in certain disciplines and to gain exposure in different potential job markets. More importantly, Erasmus fostered a vibrant cultural ecosystem in which students could learn about history, languages and culture in-situ, fueled by parties, nights-out and trips across the continent. The UK joined the Erasmus scheme from its inception and in the 2016/2017 academic year 16,561 students and trainees from British institutions participated in the program. The project boasts a budget of €14.7 billion and will provide 4 million Europeans with opportunities to gain experience in a country other than their own.