ImmiNews’ reporter Maddie here investigates the advantages of the Erasmus scheme that millions of students and young people have enjoyed across the continent since its inception in 1987. Following a House of Commons defeat that would have enshrined the scheme into the UK’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, students across the UK are sharing their stories, perplexed that the generations that follow in their footsteps may no longer benefit from the same privileges.
University students and academics across the country have protested in anger following the disappointing Parliamentary vote against the negotiation of Britain’s full membership of the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme post-Brexit.
Since its creation in 1987, more than 200,000 UK students have studied or worked under the education scheme, with almost twice as many EU students having benefitted from the programme in the UK. While Boris Johnson has unconvincingly assured that the scheme will not be under threat if it ‘is in our interests’, there is still a definite risk that British students will lose access after the Brexit transition period ends.
Defending the invaluable and unparalleled impact that the EU scheme had on their university degrees, six past and current university students explain why Britain’s membership in Erasmus+ must be saved:
Alice, from Turin, Italy, who came to study her Masters at the University of Leeds attributes the opportunity to be immersed within British culture as one of the main benefits of studying under Erasmus+, sustained by the fact she still works and lives in Leeds today.
She explains: “Erasmus has allowed me to dive straight into the culture, society and language of England, something of crucial importance for a student of English literature and language, but of Italian heritage and upbringing.
One thing I was sure about was my hunger for experiencing what I had only learned on books and seen on TV: the beautiful English landscapes, multicultural cities, a vibrant university life and many opportunities, just waiting to be seized.”
Erasmus has allowed me to dive straight into the culture, society and language of England
Similarly, Maddy, who went to Germany for her year in industry in 2018-2019 describes the diversity of her fellow colleagues:
“My team at work was made up of me (English), another intern (German), a client manager (French), his intern (Italian) and a senior designer (Mexican) so it was a real mix of cultures and I learnt so much from them.
It was so fun learning about Germany and their culture and being able to travel around. Honestly, I think Brexit would not be happening at all if everyone had to do an Erasmus year.”
Honestly, I think Brexit would not be happening at all if everyone had to do an Erasmus year
Undoubtedly, the incomparable improvement of a foreign language in its country of origin makes the opportunity to study or work under Erasmus+ even more valued, as described by Umar, a previous International Business and Italian student who studied in Italy for a year:
“Erasmus allowed me to develop my colloquial Italian and cultural understanding of the nation and the language. It also allowed me to understand the diversity of the local colloquialisms which I noticed while visiting other cities in Italy.
Without the practical application, my Italian would be terrible. When I left the UK I was one of the worst Italian speaking students in my class. By the time I came back I could have a full blown conversation with anyone about anything in Italian.”
When I left the UK I was one of the worst Italian speaking students in my class. By the time I came back I could have a full blown conversation with anyone about anything in Italian
French and German student, Charlotte, who spent four months studying in Dortmund, Germany and eight months just outside of Lille, France, similarly recounts the importance of Erasmus for learning a language authentically:
“Both of these experiences were essential for my language skills – there is no better way to learn a language than to spend time in a country that speaks it. There are so many things that you just don’t learn at school or university: regional sayings, pleasantries, slang, humour, and of course, culture.”
There are so many things that you just don’t learn at school or university: regional sayings, pleasantries, slang, humour, and of course, culture
The opportunity to build friendships with people from around the world enables students to become part of a wider global community, bringing together a diversified group of closely connected friends, explained by Alice:
“Erasmus has dramatically broadened my friend circle and made me feel a lot more connected to the whole world. I now have friends all over the planet, and I feel so lucky to have shared moments, laughs, tears or even just a few chats with such a diverse bunch of people.
It has made me a true citizen of the world and has opened my eyes on the many beautiful things around me. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I was given as it truly changed me for the better, as a student and as a person. It made me realise despite boundaries, kilometres and language barriers, people all just want to communicate and share their emotions and opinions, and they all equally deserve respect and kindness.”
It has made me a true citizen of the world and has opened my eyes on the many beautiful things around me
Erasmus+ pushes students out of their comfort zones, placing them in challenging yet highly rewarding environments, essential for personal growth and development, as Charlotte explains:
“I am already quite a confident person, but Erasmus developed this even further. I had never lived alone before and never thought that I could but having had no choice and having gotten used to it, I now feel a lot more independent. The experiences I gained from Erasmus have enriched me in so many ways and will (hopefully) make me stand out to employers because I feel like I am a lot more open now.”
Erasmus have enriched me in so many ways and will (hopefully) make me stand out to employers because I feel like I am a lot more open now
Perhaps the most treasured element of Erasmus+ is the financial grants offered to students, enabling those from lower income backgrounds to take part in the exchange. Livvy, who studies Illustration at Leeds Arts University, argues:
“I think it’s ridiculous that they’re trying to get rid of it because it just adds another barrier for students from lower income families. I wouldn’t be able to fund this exchange by myself with only my student loan – there’s a lot of extra costs that come with moving out of the country and getting rid of Erasmus is just going to make it so only people with money can study abroad.”
I think it’s ridiculous that they’re trying to get rid of it because it just adds another barrier for students from lower income families
Umar’s own personal experiences additionally demonstrates the inclusivity that Erasmus promotes:
“I come from a non-privileged background. I got into Leeds for my grades and got a scholarship for coming from a bad state school. Without the money given to me by Erasmus my entire degree wouldn’t have been possible.”
Without the money given to me by Erasmus my entire degree wouldn’t have been possible
Finally, Adam, a student whose intentions to study abroad have been curtailed by the potential eradication of Erasmus grants, defends the provision of grants:
“My (potential) experience with Erasmus has always depended on the financial support of the European Union through grants. Studying outside of the EU was never an option for me, because I couldn’t afford it.
This is a time where we should be unleashing the potential of education, not restricting it to those that can afford it. It’s an indictment of what we should expect with the majority the Tories have secured in the election.”
This is a time where we should be unleashing the potential of education, not restricting it to those that can afford it. It’s an indictment of what we should expect with the majority the Tories have secured in the election