The United Kingdom and Erasmus: An Obituary

, by Florian Bauer, Isabelle Walker

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

The United Kingdom and Erasmus: An Obituary
Credit: Caitlin Tilley

On Christmas Eve 2020, Boris Johnson had a disappointing present for students in the UK and EU: the announcement that the UK would be pulling out of the Erasmus programme. This was a huge shock, as a future of easy mobility between the UK and EU seemed more out of reach than ever.

Johnson’s main justification for this decision was financial, saying that the new Turing scheme will provide a better value for money. The withdrawal is particularly bitter for EU citizens who planned an experience abroad in the UK, as it will not be financially viable anymore for most of them. The move also risks alienating the UK further from the EU, although that might be regarded as a positive side-effect by many Brexiteers.

The Erasmus Programme, which stands for European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students is an EU-wide exchange programme established over 30 years ago in 1987. The Programme aims to provide students with the opportunity to experience a global education. Over 5,000 universities currently participate across 37 countries, which equates to 6 million students taking part in the programme.

The Turing scheme, named after mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, will replace the Erasmus programme in September 2021 and is said to provide funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas.. While it’s reassuring that there will be some sort of alternative, there’s no doubt that a lot of students will feel the loss of the Erasmus programme.

We spoke to students in the UK who have been able to take part in the Erasmus programme in recent years about their experiences of what it was like to study abroad in the EU.

Lauren Mason

Erasmus: Germany

Laura with the international choir, Bonn
Karneval 2012, Cologne

Being able to study abroad for a year in Germany thanks to the Erasmus programme really opened my eyes to the limits of the way we think and act in our own cultural bubbles. My time at the University of Bonn in Germany showed me how other educational systems work, what is considered important in the curriculum and the kind of skills that are valued. This causes you to question the system and culture you grew up in – but in a constructive way. Why do some people think differently and how can we use that as a strength?

Erasmus helps you to move abroad by making the administrative, financial and logistical barriers much smaller. It is an educational experience, but also a personal one. When you live in a new culture and society, you notice how people do things differently – at first, everything seems different and confusing. Who knew that the Germans, so strict and sensible according to the stereotypes, seriously let their hair down on 11 November for the Cologne Carnival? But eventually, you take the best parts back to your home country and they form part of your personality. You realise that people from Germany, Spain, Estonia or Turkey might speak a different language and eat different food, but we all share the same hopes and fears.

After my year in Germany, I got itchy feet and moved to France, then to Belgium. I still love the UK, but I feel sad that future generations might not get to experience the richness of studying abroad and making new friends via the Erasmus programme.

Holly Cabrelli

Erasmus: Spain

The Erasmus programme enabled me to move abroad for a year and improve my Spanish skills. From Erasmus parties to tandem language exchanges, it was an incredible experience that offered so many different opportunities. It allowed me to connect with people all over Europe from different backgrounds, and make lifelong friends.

Taking part in the Erasmus programme really pushed me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to live away from home in a different country for a year. I was able to work for a year and gain experience in marketing which is what I want to go into in the future, and also continue my studies.

Living in Spain helped my Spanish improve so much, as I was able to spend a couple of months working for a Spanish company which gave me a lot of confidence. The Spanish courses that the universities in Barcelona and Zaragoza offered helped me improve my grammar. This opportunity will no doubt benefit me in the future as it has given me something that could stand out in job applications and interviews.

Students will be so discouraged from pursuing languages at university without the Erasmus scheme as for me that is what initially attracted me to the course. It’s hard to fund and organise a year abroad without the support and guidance of the Erasmus programme.

Erasmus greatly changed my perspective on both Spain and Europe as a whole. I was nervous at first to move to a different country but when I settled in I realised how friendly everyone was and how eager everyone was to make friends. I love the Spanish way of life, it’s so relaxed and they really value spending quality time with family and friends.

I got to travel to different Spanish cities including Alicante, Valencia and Teruel, and each stood out to me for different reasons. It made me realise how each city in Spain really has its own characteristics and history and it is worth exploring and visiting as many places as you can whilst you’re on your year abroad.

Ciara Richards

Erasmus: Germany

During my Erasmus I did a 12-month working placement in Munich (2018-2019). I worked in the trade show department of a German tech company and had the time of my life. I ended up finding another internship for 3 months so that I could stay in Munich for the rest of summer before my final year of uni. Once you realise how you can reach so many other countries so easily from Munich, Europe becomes your oyster.

Munich living is very expensive, so I was so grateful to have this grant that was able to give me memories that will last a lifetime.

I fell in love with the Bavarian way of life and decided to move back to Munich July 2019 (during the pandemic) after graduating, so I got a job in Marketing here. It made a huge difference having the experience of working in a German company on my CV and my language skills had greatly improved, which made me stand out as an applicant. I cannot express how grateful I am to the number of European people I met through Erasmus, I have never felt prouder to be European than I was surrounded by such a diverse group.

I was incredibly sad to hear that the UK would no longer be taking part in the Erasmus programme. It stung because my own experience has shaped so many of my opinions and feelings about Europe. It stung even more because Boris Johnson lied in January. It stings even more because after moving there, there is a stereotype of English people speaking no other languages and there is no way this will ever be improved if the Turing Scheme encourages Commonwealth countries.

It’s incredibly frustrating and sad to see people (from an older generation) bashing Erasmus and describing it as a holiday. I worked harder for that internship than any other job, gaining experience and communicating in another language every single day. It differs but the mandatory salary is not enough for students to live in a city like Munich – the grant made it possible for me to excel during this year.

Zahra Iqbal

Erasmus: Spain

I was lucky to complete my Erasmus year in Madrid. My Erasmus experience was one of the best experiences of my life. As someone who comes from a working-class background, not many people I know can afford or are at liberty to move abroad for a year. Thanks to the Erasmus scheme and the grant I was able to do so. Linguistically, my Spanish improved massively while living in Spain. But I think the most valuable thing was that I was forced out of my comfort zone, which has made me much more confident in myself and my abilities. I frequently tell myself that if I can move to a new country by myself, I can do anything!

Being on the Erasmus program allowed me to meet a plethora of students from all around Europe; it made me feel a part of an international community abroad. I enjoyed meeting and sharing experiences with friends from Italy, France, Germany etc. It was easy to make friends at university or events as Erasmus students gravitated towards each other and found friendship in the fact that we were European and in Spain - we were all in the same boat. I travelled around Spain, engaged with the culture and genuinely learnt a lot about Spain, Europe and European life. I was able to attend protests, find new hobbies, visit museums and really engage with Spanish culture, an experience I would not have had if I was not abroad!

I think that the UK no longer being part of the scheme is a great shame, students like me who cannot afford to move abroad without the grant/aid are now going to be deprived of a life-changing experience. I fear that the replacement program will not be as fruitful, engaging and will have many setbacks.

Laura Brierley

Erasmus: Spain and France

The Erasmus programme enabled me to spend a semester studying in Pau in the south of France, as well as a semester studying in Valencia, Spain. I enjoyed this experience so much and I learnt a lot about the different cultures in both Spain and France compared to the UK. BY spending so much time in the local communities, I was able to drastically improve my language skills.

Taking part in Erasmus is such a unique experience as you meet lots of students who are all in the same boat and everyone is so friendly. I met so many amazing people from all over Europe, who I am still in touch with. It was very beneficial for me as without the Erasmus programme I would have struggled to fund this incredible year, and I doubt I would have been able to have the same experiences.

Erasmus helped me to connect with EU students and create a sense of community. It is very sad that future students from the UK won’t be able to take advantage of this life-changing experience, as it had such a big impact on me. It really changed my perspectives and gave me a newfound sense of independence - it is an experience I will never forget!

For part two of this series, we will be speaking to EU students who have had the opportunity to take part in the Erasmus scheme in the UK.

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