In January 2017 we celebrated the birthday of one of the European Union’s greatest success stories, Erasmus. For 30 years it has brought generations of young people in Europe closer together in the most practical and efficient way. Since the creation of the Erasmus mobility programme in 1987, more than 3 million young people have studied abroad and over 300,000 research exchanges, teaching and training have been supported.
In 2014 alone, the programme provided the UK with €79.08 million in grants and allowed 36,734 British people to study, train or volunteer abroad. These grants helped and continue to help young people enhance their skills, employability and intercultural awareness. They also encourage young people to participate in democratic life. Compared to previous generations of programmes, the new Erasmus+ provides stronger support for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, who often have fewer opportunities. Erasmus + also funds cooperation projects: 709 organisations and 128 partnerships have benefitted from such grants in the UK, amounting to €30.66 million.
But aside from the figures, Erasmus has proved that by working together schools, universities, youth organisations, public authorities and enterprises can learn from each other and strengthen education and youth systems across the EU. Cooperation projects foster modernisation and EU-wide collaboration, which in turn stimulates innovation, creativity and improves job prospects.
Indeed, those who have studied abroad are less likely to experience long-term unemployment, and participation in the Erasmus study exchange programme increases job prospects for young people. Erasmus is more important than ever in times of economic hardship and high youth unemployment. Erasmus has also played a tremendous role in improving the quality of higher education in Europe by opening up our universities and colleges to international cooperation.
Leaving the EU will have a major impact on higher education, with important loss of income due to a fall in the numbers of EU nationals studying in the UK. Losing access to EU funding, such as Horizon 2020 grants (which accounts for a quarter of all public investment in UK research) could further tarnish the attractiveness of the UK as a place to study for international students, including those from non-EU countries.
Most importantly, by ending freedom of movement, a hard Brexit would deprive future generations of young Britons of the chance to broader their minds, learn a foreign language, enjoy new culture and gain a valuable European experience, not only key for their employability, but for their own personal and cultural development”.
Labour MEPs will fight for the UK to maintain its access to the programme, and call for this to be a priority in the negotiations on Article 50.
By giving one less opportunity to meet, exchange and interact with their neighbours, we would risk depriving young British people of an extraordinary opportunity to acquire the skills they need to become open and active citizens in a diverse and tolerant society.