Erasmus: preparing for a Brexit outcome

Tijen Ahmet and Smita Jamdar look at the potential impact of Brexit on Erasmus+ students

As the potential impact of Brexit continues to send shockwaves through the UK, the position of students wishing to partake in the Erasmus programme remains precarious.

While the government has recently decided to soften some of its tougher immigration policies for international students, there is currently still no certainty on what the UK’s future relationship with the European Union (EU) will look like – especially around areas such as the mobility of citizens and access to EU programmes and schemes, such as Erasmus.

It is vital that universities do everything in their power to negotiate with the partners and secure agreements ahead of time

In the case of a deal being negotiated, the Erasmus programme would continue as usual through a transition period, with the plan being to negotiate the UK’s ongoing participation in the programme through a future trade agreement.

However, should a no-deal Brexit take place, the UK will become a third country, without any alternative status, such as that of a partner country, having been agreed. Therefore, EU nationals entering the UK for more than three months would be required to register under the Government’s proposed temporary immigration status known as European Temporary Leave to Remain (Euro TLR), with a subsequent visa being needed if an individual intends to stay beyond 31 December 2020 under the future immigration regime.

Contingency plans?

As a means of preparing for a possible no-deal scenario, the EU has put forward contingency proposals, meaning that any individual already participating in the scheme at the time of the UK leaving the EU would be able to complete their entire programme, including any planned future study at a UK institution.

Similarly, the UK government has confirmed that it will underwrite Erasmus grants agreed by the date of exit, subject to projects being classed as ‘committed to continuation’. However, it should be noted that the underwriting would only cover UK institutions and not cover funding committed to partner and participants in other member states. Therefore, a question remains over whether and how EU Erasmus participants would wish to fund activity with their UK counterparts in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The UK government has confirmed that it will underwrite Erasmus grants agreed by the date of exit, subject to projects being classed as ‘committed to continuation’

This underwriting also requires a certain level of agreement from partnering institutions that they would wish to carry on with the Erasmus project, even though the UK would no longer be a member of the scheme. With this in mind, it is vital that universities do everything in their power to negotiate with the partners and secure agreements ahead of time. Anecdotally, it appears that some European partners are proposing their own terms for such agreements and consequently time-consuming negotiations.

It is clear that there are still a number of gaps in the UK’s plan to underwrite and secure Erasmus activity. The programme depends largely on collaborative partnerships and it is unlikely that the UK would be able to continue without international partners who are willing or able to do their bit.

Open lines of communication

While the uncertainty is set to continue for a while longer, there are definite actions that institutions can take now to protect both their own and their students’ positions in the months to come. For universities advertising Erasmus courses, or offering places on the agreement that students will benefit from the programme, immediate thought should be given as to how these are marketed in the short term, before a clear future position is reached.

This approach could include keeping lines of communication open with existing international partners and exploring whether alternative placements are available, as well as looking at disclaimers and exclusion clauses to check whether they will operate to protect the university from claims, should the Erasmus programme be unable to go ahead as planned.

 There are definite actions that institutions can take now to protect both their own and their students’ positions in the months to come

In the event of a no-deal, as long as a university has followed the available guidance and can demonstrate that it has attempted to get individual EU universities to commit as partners, then it is likely that this scenario would be classed as falling outside of the university’s control and disclaimers would then be enforceable to protect the universities involved.

While this is reassuring news for the institutions working hard to try and secure partnerships and EU links for the future, it remains to be a very sad state of affairs for the many young people whose dreams of studying abroad would ultimately be dashed.

The government has recognised the value of international exchange and collaboration in education, pledging to create an alternative should UK participation no longer be possible. However, given the established infrastructure, rules and agreements already in place, a government replacement is unlikely to deliver the same standards as the current Erasmus programme.


Smita Jamdar, head of education and Tijen Ahmet, business immigration specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau

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