The threat a no-deal presents to student mobility under Erasmus+

“While the UK continues to have a future role in Erasmus+, its participation could boil down to individual agreements between institutions”

In 1987 the European Community approved an extensive mobility program for students in higher education. Under the auspices of the Commission, this went on to become Erasmus+, offering university students, educators, and other learners the possibility of study or internship abroad for up to 12 months per cycle of studies, usually after successful completion of the first year of university.

Erasmus+ has grown significantly; between 2007 and 2016 the programme funded mobility for more than 4.3 million learners, with British students reaping significant benefits from the UK’s full participation in the scheme.

In the latest of its series of no-deal papers, the government has confirmed that the UK will engage with the European Commission with the aim of participating in Erasmus+ until the end of the current cycle in 2020. It states that EU funding for UK participants will be unaffected for the entire lifetime of projects, including those that extend beyond 2020.

However, in its 2019 guidance on Erasmus+, the European Commission warns that:

Eligibility criteria must be complied with for the entire duration of the grant. If the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union during the grant period without concluding an agreement with the European Union ensuring in particular that British applicants continue to be eligible, [participants] will cease to receive EU funding (while continuing, where possible, to participate) or be required to leave the project on the basis of the relevant provisions of the grant agreement on termination. 

As in many other areas of Brexit negotiation, the wishes of the British government and the intentions of the European Commission appear to diverge.

The government considers that a range of options is open to the UK post-Brexit, including programme or partner country status. So what tangible changes will a move to another status bring for British students hoping to gain valuable experience of study abroad?

As well as citizens of EU member states, students from programme countries are also eligible to participate; these are currently Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Norway, and Serbia. The UK could, subject to agreement from the Commission acting on behalf of the EU27, fall into this group, enabling British students to continue to participate as fully as they have previously.

“The wishes of the British government and the intentions of the European Commission appear to diverge”

EU rules go on to provide for much more limited involvement of citizens of partner countries – a large number of states, with whom bilateral agreements have been reached, and whose participation is subject to visa and other regulatory requirements.

The no-deal position paper sets out the British government’s desire to reach an agreement with the Commission but recognises that – if that is not possible – bilateral negotiations may be required with the individual Member States. It goes on to suggest that UK institutions enter into their own deals with partner organisations, to enable particular projects to continue.

The government makes clear that its financial guarantee for Erasmus+ extends only to projects approved and ratified prior to 29 March 2019, and only covers funding committed to UK organisations.  Importantly it “does not cover funding committed to partners and participants in the other Member States and other participating countries. This means that where a UK organisation is the lead member of a partnership, any funding it distributes to non-UK associated beneficiaries is not covered by the guarantee.” 

So, while the UK continues to have a future role in Erasmus+, its participation could boil down to individual agreements between institutions rather than governments, fragmenting a scheme that has enriched the learning experiences of many thousands of British students.

About the author: This article was written by Gary McIndoe, an immigration solicitor at Latitude Law. An expert in the field of immigration and asylum, he is an AILA International Associate and has contributed the immigration chapter to ‘Doing Business After Brexit’.