UK universities demand continued study abroad funding in no-deal Brexit
Students hold up a banner protesting the UK's decision to leave the EU. Source: Shutterstock

UK universities launched a campaign Wednesday to demand continued government funding in study abroad opportunities, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The #SupportStudyAbroad campaign by Universities UK (UUK) is in response to the government’s update last week on the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme, which suggested there would be no further support in no-deal Brexit.

But the universities group representing 136 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland insisted that funding support for such overseas placements should be central to achieving the government’s “Global Britain” vision post-Brexit as data shows it helps to improve graduate outcomes.

“As we leave the European Union, surely, we want more of our graduates to develop overseas links; more with the skills to take advantage of international opportunities to trade and export; more who can contribute to the UK’s global reputation and influence; more who can speak foreign languages,” UUK International Director Vivienne Stern pointed out in Times Higher Education.

In a technical notice to clarify matters last week, the UK government confirmed that British students currently in Europe on Erasmus+ placements would continue to receive funding for the duration of their time abroad.

It did not, however, commit to further funding for those wishing to apply through the scheme this year, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. There has also been no replacement scheme suggested or a contingency plan put in place, should negotiations for continued participation in Erasmus break down.

To add salt to the wound, the update came just days shy of the February 5 deadline for universities to submit their bids for funding.

The announcement immediately triggered protests for a number of reasons. First, it meant that at least 17,000 UK students would miss out on opportunities to study abroad next year through Erasmus placements.

Second, it seemed to be a complete reversal of the government’s earlier plan to continue participating in the scheme even after exiting the European Union.

“The government has committed to avoiding this in the withdrawal agreement – why not in the case of no deal?” UUK asked in its campaign message.

“In particular, this decision will affect students from poorer backgrounds and disabled students, many of whom rely on financial help to meet the extra costs of studying abroad,” added Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive.

Established in 1987, the Erasmus programme is a European Union student exchange programme that offers students the opportunity to study in another country for three to 12 months as part of their degree. Those eligible receive funds from the European Commission, which are paid through their university.

UK students heading overseas for all of 12 months may also qualify for contributions made towards their UK tuition fees for the time they are away. Separately, disadvantaged students may be entitled to more funding to allow them to foot associated costs while abroad.

In 2016/17, a total of 16,561 British students studied on Erasmus placements. Universities UK said it expects the same number of placements this year.

Provided, of course, the opportunity still exists.

Adding to its argument, the group cited the merits of such student exchanges, arguing that studying abroad supports student mobility and improves student performance. It added that those who study abroad are:

  • 19 percent more likely to gain a first class degree
  • 20 percent less likely to be unemployed
  • 10 percent more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation

“We know, too, that employers like the skills and attributes displayed by graduates who have spent time abroad as part of their degree – resilience, adaptability and flexibility,” Stern adds.

For the disadvantaged, the benefits are even more “pronounced”:

  • Black and minority ethnic (BME) students who studied abroad are 17 percent more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation; and
  • mature students who participated in these programmes earn 10 percent more than their peers

“An investment in an international experience for our students now is an investment in the future of our economy.

“Without the international opportunities offered through schemes like Erasmus, the UK’s workforce will not be equipped to meet the changing needs of our economy post-Brexit,” the group said.

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