Bi-lateral thinking

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Philip Hunt on why, post-Brexit, the UK must maintain close ties with Erasmus+ and its successor programme

It is self-evident that we must encourage young people from the UK to maintain and develop links with the rest of Europe if we are to avoid a drifting apart from the continent post-Brexit. This is why Labour has tabled a frontbench amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill on the need to maintain membership of the Erasmus+ programme, or at least equivalent participatory relations.

The scheme has enabled around 600,000 individuals from our country to go abroad to study, train or volunteer over the past 30 years. It is open to education, training, youth and sport organisations across all sectors of lifelong learning, all levels of education and the youth sector.

Erasmus+ has had a hugely positive impact on young people. The British Council report that those who participate in international opportunities return with increased language and inter-cultural skills. They are more involved in research, development and innovation on their return, and both have a greater impact in the workplace and benefit our economy.

Students who have enjoyed an Erasmus+ placing have better job prospects. They are much less likely to experience long term unemployment, and participants in vocational education and training have a higher employment rate. Plus the way in which Erasmus+ funding is awarded is especially helpful to those from more disadvantaged backgrounds or with additional needs.

Importantly, the programme does not just take place within the EU. It has enabled UK universities to develop new partnerships with universities in Asia, Latin America and the United States; and to also reinforce those already in place. A particular focus is on raising standards in education, with a wide range of projects that emphasise teaching methods, the use of IT, multilingualism and curriculum development.

The National Agency for Erasmus+ in the UK – a partnership between the British Council and Ecorys UK – strongly supports continued full membership of the programme through to 2020. At least 250,000 more young people across the UK would have the chance to study, train or volunteer abroad, with UK organisations continuing to collaborate on international projects.

While the UK continues to be a full member of the EU until the point of departure, the government has made it clear it values international exchanges. The preferred position is that participation in some programmes promoting science, education and culture should continue post-Brexit. Beyond, that, Ministers have said that options will be discussed during phase 11 of the negotiations.

The British Council believes the UK should seek to remain within a successor Erasmus+ programme from 2012-2028. Without this, the UK will have to set up numerous bi-lateral relationships – all of which will be time-consuming and costly. At the very least, we should seek a very close association with this programme so that our young people continue to benefit from the wonderful opportunities available. 

Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath is a member of Labour’s Education team in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordPhilofBrum

Published 21st February 2018

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