25 June 2018
The triggering of Article 50 and the decision to withdraw from the EU has created uncertainty around the future participation of UK students, teachers and organisations in Erasmus+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport across Europe. However, proposals put forward by the European Commission on 30 May 2018 indicate that the UK would be eligible to participate in the 2021-2027 Erasmus+ programme as a third party country.
The Welsh Government’s report (PDF 2894KB) on ‘Securing Wales Future’ stated that whether or not the UK remains able to participate in Erasmus+ will be a significant issue for Wales, as the programme is a key source of funding for educational, professional and personal development opportunities for Welsh citizens.
The role of Erasmus+
The current programme runs from 2014 to 2020, with the aim of boosting skills and employability, as well as modernising education, training, and youth work. Its budget of €14.7 billion over a seven year period provides opportunities for European citizens to study, train, gain work experience and volunteer abroad. Mobility funding is available to both students and staff across the education and youth sectors.
The programme also supports partnerships between education, training and youth organisations, as well as grassroots sport projects.
Erasmus+ in Wales
The latest figures from February 2018 reveal that, between 2014 and 2017, €507 million was awarded to organisations to deliver Erasmus+ projects in the UK. These funds have supported 3,829 projects across schools, higher education, adult education, vocational education and training and youth sectors.
Organisations in Wales received €29.3 million to deliver 197 projects across the country between 2014 and 2017. In 2017 more than €8.6 million was awarded to Wales’ educational, training and youth work organisations, compared to €5.1 million in 2014. This represents a rise of over 68% since the start of the current programme.
Phase one of the Article 50 negotiations between the UK Government and the European Commission in December 2017 established that – subject to the caveat that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – UK students, educators and organisations will be able to participate in the programme until the end of the current EU budget in 2020.
However, there had been uncertainty over what will happen after 2020, as Article 24 of the current Erasmus+ system excludes countries from participating in the programme if they are neither EU member states, candidates for accession, members of the European Free Trade Association or covered by the European Neighboured Policy.
UK Government’s position
On 2 March 2018, UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated in her Mansion House Speech that the UK Government would seek ongoing participation in key EU programmes, including “educational and cultural programmes, to promote our shared values and enhance our intellectual strength in the world”.
On 15 March, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Robin Walker MP, stated that:
The Department for Education is the lead Department for Erasmus+ policy, and its officials are in regular touch with the [European Commission’s] Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.
Position of the Welsh Government
The Welsh Government has expressed its desire to see continued participation of the UK nations and regions in various EU programmes after Brexit, including the successor to the 2014-2020 Erasmus+ programme.
In March 2018, the Assembly’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation (EAAL) Committee published the report ‘Wales’ future relationship with Europe’ (PDF 9727KB), in which it stated that “we view the role of Erasmus+ in enhancing the student experience, and fostering greater Wales-European links, as a positive for all parties concerned”. The report called on the Welsh Government to set out how discussions on continued participation in Erasmus+ are progressing.
On 16 May 2018, in its response to the Committee’s report, the Welsh Government stated (PDF 222KB):
We will continue strongly to press the UK Government to allow for participation in certain EU-based networks and programmes that are of significant economic, cultural and social benefit, notably ERASMUS+; we see no good reason not to pursue such a specific arrangement, even without a fuller economic partnership.
European Commission’s proposal
The European Union is currently in the process of considering its approach to the next Erasmus+ programme, which will run from January 2021 to 2027. This forms part of the process of agreeing the EU’s next long-term budget.
As part of its 2021-2027 Erasmus+ proposal – unveiled on May 30 – the European Commission included an alteration to Article 24 of the current system to include a new category of third (non-EU) party participation, which would enable the UK to participate in the programme. The Commission is proposing that the programme be open to the participation of third countries on the condition that an agreement is reached which ‘ensures a fair balance as regards to the contribution and benefits of third county participation’. This opens up the possibility that the UK would be able to pay to participate in the scheme.
Under the Commission’s proposals, the UK’s full participation would be subject to a ‘specific agreement’, laying down the conditions of participation in the programme, including the calculation of its financial contribution. As a third country, the UK would not get ‘decisional power’ over the functioning of the programme.
In outlining its proposals, the Commission stated:
There is, in particular, a need to intensify international mobility and cooperation with third countries – in particular enlargement, neighbourhood, industrialised and emerging countries – in order to support institutions and organisations in Europe in facing the challenges of globalisation.
The UK’s participation in the 2021-2027 Erasmus+ programme is expected to form part of the UK Government’s discussions with the European Commission on its future relationship with the EU. However, as was stated by the UK Government’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, “no decisions have yet been made about the post-2020 participation, since the scope of that programme has not been agreed”. As Erasmus+ is funded through the EU’s long term budget – the Multiannual Financial Framework – the exact terms of any future UK participation in the programme are likely to only become clearer as the Commission’s proposals are debated in the European Parliament. The Parliament is scheduled to debate the EU’s next long term budget in Plenary between 2 July and 25 October 2018.
The National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit for the higher and further education sector in Wales, and the Welsh Government’s approach to preparations in these sectors. The inquiry will look at, amongst other matters, student and staff mobility and the ERASMUS+ scheme. As part of this inquiry, the Committee is holding a roundtable event for stakeholders on 4 July.
Article by Alastair Grey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service and the Research Service acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Alastair Grey by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which enabled this blog to be completed.