The government has claimed it remains committed to the Erasmus+ programme, despite most of its MPs having voted against a call to make future membership an “objective” of negotiations.
Last night, Conservative MPs voted against an amendment to the European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill 2019-20 that would have made it an objective for the government to secure an agreement to allow the UK’s participation in the scheme to continue post-Brexit.
But the Department for Education said today it is “committed to continuing the academic relationship between the UK and the EU, including through the next Erasmus+ programme if it is in our interests to do so”.
“The vote last night does not change that,” a spokesperson added.
“As we enter negotiations with the EU, we want to ensure that UK and European students can continue to benefit from each other’s world-leading education systems.”
Erasmus+ is an EU scheme that currently offers opportunities for UK citizens to study, work, volunteer, teach and train abroad in Europe.
For school pupils, the scheme offers a youth exchange programme and volunteering opportunities.
Erasmus+ has paid out tens of millions of pounds in grants to UK schools in recent years for exchanges, along with professional development opportunities for staff and collaborative projects with international partners.
Between 2014 and 2017, grants handed to UK schools totalled almost 70 million euros.
The decision of the UK to leave the EU has brought the country’s future participation in the scheme into question, and opposition MPs, led by Lib Dem education spokesperson Layla Moran, sought to ensure it was on the negotiating table with the introduction of the amendment last night.
However, the bid failed after 336 Conservative and eight Democratic Unionist Party MPs voted against it. Education secretary Gavin Williamson and schools minister Nick Gibb were among those who voted it down.
Moran said the scheme had “transformed the way we think about education” and made studying abroad “fashionable and affordable”.
“Staying in Erasmus should be a no-brainer,” she said. “But rather than voting for our amendment, Conservative MPs are willing to let Ministers negotiate away our membership of Erasmus if they think they could do a better job.
“It is time the government got serious about this – are they in favour of staying in Erasmus or not?”
‘It will be a tragic loss and a further inequity to many of these students’
Furness Academy, in Barrow, has taken part in nine Erasmus+ projects, worth funding totalling $375,000, over the past three-and-a-half years.
Head Simon Laheney said nearly half of the schools more than 1,000 pupils are financially disadvantaged and have “benefitted most prominently” from the projects.
“Open to all, and participation encouraged, these young people have been able to travel and visit schools and businesses across our continent, with no financial commitment from parents, enjoying experiences unavailable to them without the support of the Erasmus+ programme,” he said.
“It will be a tragic loss and a further inequity to many of these students with regard to the development of their cultural and social capital, and quite possibly their social mobility if we are unable to offer these programmes in the future.”
He said the international collaboration facilitated by the programme would be unachievable for the school on its own.
“Our students have been able to work on joint projects, communicate via the e-twinning platform, share stories about their school and importantly, make friends with other young people from across the span of Europe.”