Bye-Bye Erasmus: How will Brexit Affect Modern Languages Students?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Erasmus, which stands for the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, is funded by the European Union (EU). Erasmus ensures that students don’t have any fees when studying overseas, while being supported by grants towards their living costs, providing vital financial support. Erasmus was established in 1987, and on average, 15,000 British university students participate in the scheme every year.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson had repeatedly assured MPs and the public that there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme”, the UK Government made the decision not to stay in the Erasmus programme under the Brexit deal agreed on Christmas Eve, even though a number of non-EU countries partake in the scheme, including Iceland, Turkey and Norway.

While there is no doubt that Erasmus provided amazing opportunities to students of multiple disciplines, a year abroad is essential for Modern Language students to succeed in their degrees. 

If the Government’s proposed replacement scheme is unsuccessful, the situation could be grave, as a significant number of students could find themselves in a position where it’s not financially possible to travel abroad, meaning their language skills and ultimately their degree will suffer.

Johnson stated that the decision to withdraw from the Erasmus programme was “a tough decision”, citing the potential financial benefits from leaving the scheme.

As a replacement of Erasmus, Johnson has proposed the Turing scheme, named after British computing pioneer Alan Turing. The proposed Turing scheme should provide students with the opportunity to go further afield than Europe and “benefit from the intellectual stimulation of not only Europe but the world”. The Government have also declared that “the new scheme will also target those from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas.”

However, is the Turing scheme going to provide financial support equal to Erasmus?

The Government’s proposed scheme has promised “over £100 million to send 35,000 students on placements and exchanges across the world”. However, according to The Independent, “if £100 million was divided between 35,000 participants, they would receive £2,850 towards their studies and living costs”. In comparison, UK students received an allowance of €420 per month from Erasmus, which provided the opportunity to make the most of your studies or offer yourself for unpaid internships to gain invaluable experiences. Worryingly, this opportunity could now have been taken away from British students.

Furthermore, it won’t just be British students who may suffer the consequences. It is expected that the Turing scheme will not fund students coming to the UK, meaning universities will miss out on a tremendous source of income. Students arriving in the UK from the EU will be required to get a visa, which will be granted on the basis of being offered a place on a course, meeting English language requirements and proving they have enough money to pay for their studies. This change is concerning, as it could alienate a large number of people unable to afford it.

Looking aside from Britain’s decision to leave the Erasmus programme, visa regulations will make it harder for linguists to travel for significant periods of time in order to practise their languages or maintain them.

The Government’s decision could have a detrimental long-term effect on British universities. A large number of staff at UK universities have come from the EU, and the EU have provided a vast amount of funding towards their research programmes.

Erasmus has undoubtedly transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people, offering job opportunities, friendships and relationships amongst several other enriching experiences.

I spoke to my sister-in-law who spent a year studying in Toulouse, France from September 2005 to June 2006, and she explained to me how enriching her experience was. Not only did she master a language and experience a different culture and academic setting, but she also made lots of international friends and was able to visit lots of new places.

She disagreed with critics describing the Erasmus scheme as “a glorified gap year” saying ‘it was definitely not a glorified gap year, but an opportunity to develop lots of skills and it offered lots of opportunities both academic, personal and career related’. She also praised the experience as an opportunity to develop her confidence and was disappointed with the Government’s decision to withdraw from the scheme.

Many others, including British philosopher and writer Julian Baggini, have voiced their criticism of the decision. In an incredibly insightful piece for The Guardian, Baggini describes how he “grieves for what British students have lost” and how “Erasmus was a symbol of the free movement of people and ideas”, whilst the former head of the UK Foreign Office Peter Ricketts, claimed that the UK’s decision was “short sighted and mean spirited”.

There is a lot more to the Erasmus scheme than the financial aspect, although it is of course incredibly important. But the Erasmus scheme offers so much more beyond this, and arguably missing out on this community and those experiences will be of great impact to Modern Languages students. It is essential that the Turing scheme considers all the beneficial aspects of Erasmus, so that UK students can continue to reap its rewards.