Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a one-year extension to the £2.5 million school exchange programme, principally focussed on disadvantaged children, in a speech at the Education World Forum in London.

A school exchange scheme is being extended as part of plans for Britain's outward-looking education ambitions after the UK leaves the EU.

The Education Secretary has made a rallying call today for British education to be the envy of the world, marking the start of a ‘post-Brexit education revolution’ (Monday 20 January).

Gavin Williamson delivered a speech at the Education World Forum in London, which welcomes more than 100 education ministers from around the world, stressing the importance of nurturing international relationships as the UK prepares to leave the EU, to help Britain be the best place for education in the world.

Mr Williamson announced a one-year extension to a £2.5 million school exchange programme which allows children from disadvantaged backgrounds to experience other countries, cultures and improve language skills.

Mr Williamson also discussed ambitions for the Government’s International Education Strategy, which aims to increase international student numbers and strengthen the UK’s collaboration on education with overseas partners.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The UK has always been an outward-looking and global nation, with a proud history and record when it comes to education and innovation.

“Just over a week from now, the UK will leave the EU. This is the perfect opportunity to march forward and be the global leader in educating children, young people and adults. Make no mistake, I want the UK to be the best place in the world to educate your child and make the most of people’s talents.

“As we step out into the world, our doors are open and our ambitions are bold. We will continue to learn from those countries excelling in areas like maths and will share with others the lessons we have learned. We will place a bigger focus on further and technical education and will continue to welcome hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest international students to our world-class universities.

“Achieving this comes by working in partnership with the rest of the world and that will not change. With world leading universities and one of the best school systems in the world, we are and will continue to be a global leader in education.”

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The Education Secretary highlighted how education has long been one of the UK’s greatest assets, and through an ongoing education revolution, reforms have driven up school standards, improved our curriculum and boosted literacy.

Mr Williamson also made clear that the UK’s doors are open to international students who want to benefit from its leading education. That goal was underlined in September 2019 by the creation of a new graduate visa route, giving international students up to two years to find employment after successfully completing their studies. This new route will be launched in summer 2021.

Statistics published on 16 January showed that UK higher education institutions hosted almost 486,000 students from outside the UK in 2018/19, an increase of 27,000 on the previous year. The figure moves towards the Government’s ambition for 600,000 international students choosing to study in the UK by 2030.

Erica Ramos, NUS Vice President (Union Development) said:

“It makes no sense for the government to extend funding for exchange programmes for school children while removing opportunities for them later in life by not committing to the continuation of Erasmus+ after we leave the European Union. All students should have access to programmes that allow them to expand their cultural knowledge, exchange cultures and experience the world regardless of age. While we welcome today’s announcement it must be backed up with a commitment to continue participation in Erasmus+.

"Currently over half of all outward student mobility in the UK is through the Erasmus+ scheme with students who study abroad 28% more likely to gain a 1st class degree, 18% less likely to be unemployed, and 7% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation. Evidence shows that businesses are increasingly looking for employees with international experience and language skills – and, according to a British Council survey, almost two-thirds of university language students said that an international exchange helped inspire them to choose their degree course. With Erasmus+ students in the UK generating £390 million for the UK economy each year, its essential that the government confirms its commitment to the UK’s continuing involvement in Erasmus as soon as possible.

“We hope today’s announcement indicates that the UK government will be negotiating for the UK’s continued membership of Erasmus+ as a priority.”

Young people deserve a clear, unambiguous commitment to Erasmus

Responding to reports the Government is extending an exchange scheme to help disadvantaged pupils travel abroad after suffering a backlash over the Erasmus programme,

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

“The Prime Minister cannot be allowed to pull the wool over our eyes. This announcement falls a long way short. Young people deserve a clear, unambiguous commitment to ensure the UK stays in Erasmus.

"Erasmus provides thousands of life changing opportunities every year. Liberal Democrats will not allow Boris Johnson’s government to steal that away.”

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