Losing study abroad scheme would blow a hole in UK economic prospects 

More than 17,000 UK university students are hoping that the UK Government can negotiate continued involvement in Erasmus+ in its trade discussions with the European Union so they can develop important and necessary skills overseas next year.

The programme  creates opportunities for thousands of students from schools, colleges, and universities to spend time in more than 60 countries around the world - not just in Europe. Almost half of these involve traineeships with companies outside the UK.

 Our economy will also suffer if the UK is not part of Erasmus+,  with incoming students spending money in all parts of the country - £420 million a year and rising annually. When these export earnings are included in the calculation, the UK is estimated to make a net profit of £243 million a year from our participation in Erasmus.

The UK Government has now set out its approach to negotiations and, while Universities UK is pleased to see Erasmus+ mentioned, a stronger commitment must be made as talks progress in the weeks ahead.

The UK will not participate in the new Erasmus+ programme starting from 1 January 2021 unless the Government secures continued participation in its talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

This would mean thousands of students will not be able to benefit from the numerous opportunities a period of study in an international university can offer, including the chance to gain vital skills and cultural experiences demanded by employers.

The loss of Erasmus+ would be felt hardest by disadvantaged and disabled students who receive additional grants to study abroad, very often spending their first time overseas.

UK businesses and student employers have previously expressed the value of a globally skilled workforce. Almost half (42%) of higher education students who go on Erasmus undergo traineeships abroad in businesses and enterprises, learning skills which are demanded by employers on graduation.

Now, university and business leaders have come together to call on government to make clear that Erasmus+ is a priority in the trade deal discussions, which are about to start.

Vivienne Stern, Director at Universities UK International (UUKi), said:

“It is in the UK’s interest to fully associate to the next Erasmus+ programme. The opportunities it affords and benefits it brings are numerous, far-reaching and backed up by hard facts.

“Students learn new and in-demand skills when they study overseas, bringing in hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue to the UK economy. Those studying abroad are likely to earn more and find employment sooner after they graduate. We know that disadvantaged and disabled students have the most to gain from an international experience. They will be the students who will lose the most if Erasmus+ falls by the wayside.

“Yet, I am worried that government isn’t committed to keeping the UK in Erasmus. Now is the time to commit to this unique programme that boosts not only students’ prospects, but those of businesses and the economy.”

Emma Meredith, International Director at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said:

“€77million in Erasmus+ funding has been awarded to UK colleges since 2014, directly supporting the development of young people’s technical and employability skills as well as their understanding of the world they live in.

“AoC data shows that 85% of colleges use Erasmus+ to provide work placements that are not available locally, particularly in vocational subjects for key sectors such as construction and social care. However, local employers are not left behind as 88% of colleges engage with their community employers for incoming and outgoing student mobilities. For college students in some of the most deprived parts of the country, Erasmus+ helps to level up opportunity, experience and aspiration as well as ensuring that we are viewed as an open, tolerant and welcoming country to the rest of the world.”

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), said:

“Employers support Erasmus+ as the programme helps develop the skills and experiences they seek in student hires. In addition, graduates who have been on periods of mobility have increased intercultural awareness and resilience from their time away and are more likely to have improved language skills. We should be encouraging more students to study abroad, not less.”

Joe Fitzsimons, Head of Education and Skills Policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said:

"Many employers deeply value the kind of international experience the Erasmus+ scheme helps foster. Given the benefits it can bring students and businesses, maintaining access to Erasmus and wider EU research and education partnerships has been a priority for the IoD from the off.”

Simmone Mclean, BA Childhood and Youth, The University of Northampton, six months Erasmus+ in Nijmegen, Netherlands, said:

“I have always liked the idea of travelling the world and embracing different cultures but the right opportunities were never available to me. After the birth of my daughter Hannah, travelling seemed to be the content of a playful daydream. However, when I started my degree and I was told about the travelling opportunities available, I just knew they were for me.

“I will never be the same person again; I’m changed forever, for the better. I realise now that before I went to the Netherlands I wasn’t living, I was existing. I had limited my own imagination and was conforming to ideals set out for me by society rather than doing what I wanted to. Those six months were the most challenging, enlightening and rewarding months of my life.

“As a parent, I’ve changed as well. Living abroad has given Hannah an amazing experience so early in life and she now has skills she would have never had before, like speaking Dutch and coping in new situations. More importantly, our time together strengthened our mother-daughter bond which is a priceless gift.”

Frances Velson, BA in Business, New College Lanarkshire in partnership with University of West Scotland, two weeks in Grenoble, France, said:

"Having worked for the same company for 28 years, I was made redundant and, aged 46, needed to obtain some qualifications in order to secure new employment.

"While studying, I applied and was successful in getting a place on what was the Leonardo project and undertook a two-week mobility programme in Grenoble. The placement had such an impact on me I returned to college to further my education, including a Higher National Certificate, Higher National Diploma and a BA in partnership with University of West of Scotland.

"Afterwards, I secured a position within the Business Development Team at the same college and took parties of students to Grenoble, Ireland and Lyon. The latter was particularly challenging as it was with eight students, four with special needs, but was also the most rewarding. I saw the students grow in confidence and undertake new challenges.

"Taking part in Erasmus gave me the confidence to continue with my education, overcome barriers I faced and learn new skills. Aged 49, the programme allowed me to secure employment in a different career, having previously worked in retail. I am now 52 and the experience is just as rewarding. Seeing the students grow in confidence, tackling challenges and emerging as assertive adults is an immense pleasure to see."

Emmanuella Morsi, BA Fashion Management, University of Manchester, 11 months at PUMA Headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, said:

"Very rarely are you given an opportunity to be challenged, learn a new language and make lifelong international contacts as I did during my Erasmus+ funded placement year. It was hands-down the most valuable year of my whole four-year undergraduate degree, and the financial and language support I received from the Erasmus+ programme made it all possible.

“The Erasmus+ programme is an out-right necessity for working-class, black students like me who come from a disadvantaged background where many don’t even make it to university, let alone work for a multi-national organisation or study abroad.

“With both one years’ worth of experience working at a headquarters and having learned a new language, I will be graduating this summer knowing I am much more employable and have more confidence in my abilities than I could have ever dreamed.

“Opportunities like this do not come without hard work, and it breaks my heart that many other hard-working working-class kids of the future will be hit if this Erasmus+ is taken away. Not supporting the Erasmus+ scheme is actively deciding to neglect the needs of the most vulnerable students, and will come at the cost of not realising the full potential of future generations."

Rose Kirby, BA English Literature, York St John University, one semester in Stockholm University, Sweden, said:

“As a ‘Widening Participation student’ this experience was beyond what I ever believed I could achieve, let alone afford. Due to my background, I had dismissed studying outside of the UK as unrealistic financially and academically.

“The support of Erasmus+ funding and university staff greatly impacted my prospects and my attitude and it made studying abroad something within reach and I am so grateful for that. This experience allowed personal intercultural relationships, enhanced my academic capability and my career prospects. These positive outcomes helped me secure a position as an ‘Arts Instructor’ in Canada – working at an international and pedagogical-orientated camp.

“Erasmus+, and the financial support I received, helped broaden my horizons. Living, studying and networking abroad as part of my degree was an invaluable experience that otherwise I would not have been able to access. The experience enriched my university life, helped grow my confidence and I am now pursuing a teaching career abroad so I can continue to travel and create global relationships.”

Key facts

In the 2017/18 academic year 17,048 higher education students underwent a funded Erasmus+ placement abroad, including work placements.  

UUKi’s report Gone International Rising Aspirations report found that students who go abroad are 20% less likely to be unemployed six months after graduation than their non-mobile peers and are also more likely to be in a graduate job with a higher starting salary.  

Students that study abroad are 19% more likely to gain a first-class degree, 20% less likely to be unemployed,10% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation.

BAME students who studied abroad are 17% more likely to be in graduate jobs six months after graduation mature students who participated in these programmes earn 10% more than their peers.

The total number of countries supported by Erasmus+ is 67 – including 27 EU countries, six non-EU fully associated countries, 34 countries outside of EU

Research from the CBI shows 7 out of 10 small and medium-sized enterprises believe that future executives will need foreign language skills and international experience, 39% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ intercultural awareness and 49% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ language skills.

The Erasmus+ Impact Study published by the European Commission in 2019, found that of students who had specifically undertaken Erasmus+ placements abroad 80% find their first job after graduation within three months and for Erasmus+ enterprise graduates, 10% started their own company, with 75% planning to do so in the future.

In the further education sector, among the 9,933students who underwent Erasmus+ work placements in partnered European countries, 3,811, (38%) of these students are students with disabled students or students with fewer opportunities, who would not be able to undergo an Erasmus+ placement abroad without the financial assistance the programme offers.

The Association of College’s report The impact of Erasmus+ in UK FE colleges survey asked if colleges could self-fund an Erasmus+ equivalent programme on the same scale as current Erasmus+ funding. Only 3% said yes, and a further 3% said they could part-fund on a reduced scale; 94% said they would not be able to fund the same level of activity.

10. The same report stated that through schools’ partnerships, even at a young age 80% of pupils who participated in European school partnerships improved their sense of initiative entrepreneurship and 70% increased their digital skills.

Universities UK will be discussing the future of outward student mobility, Erasmus+, and their role in widening participation at the International higher education forum on 25 March. 

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