Meeting people is an important aspect of this process. One key element of Erasmus is giving its participants the chance to engage with others from all over the world. Vigo, where I spent my year, is a medium-sized city on the Galician coast and it is far from the most popular Erasmus destination in Spain. Yet, in a short time there, I made friends from all over the world: Canada, Venezuela, Senegal, Hungary, Colombia and fourteen different US states. I shared a flat with students from Brazil, Belgium and Italy, meaning six languages were spoken within our small living space. Moreover, the crucial part is not only meeting those who become close friends, but also increasing the interaction with people whose perspectives, opinions or politics differ from your own. This exposure can be just as constructive in improving understanding, empathy and tolerance, an important feature of the Erasmus legacy.
The scheme’s impact should not be underestimated. Its effects can be, with no hint of melodrama, life changing. The European Commission estimates around 1 million babies have been born to Erasmus couples since the programme began in 1987! Moreover, their surveys have found that 40% of Erasmus students go on to work abroad after graduation, with an unemployment rate that is 23% lower than average. In fact, 92% of employers added that they actively seek out candidates with personality traits boosted by an Erasmus exchange (curiosity, tolerance and communication skills to reiterate a few).
By abandoning the scheme, the UK is depriving its students of options, especially for those whom without the funding, such experiences would not be possible. Yes, there is a proposed replacement but it will offer less financial aid and potential incoming students from other European countries will not be granted any benefits. There is little sense in substituting a functioning system for one that serves fewer people while damaging well-established partnerships. It is incredibly expensive to study as an international student in the UK without financial aid; tuition fees alone cost between £10,000 and £26,000 annually for an undergraduate degree, with medical courses stretching up to £58,600. Abandoning a reciprocal agreement will greatly affect the country’s diverse university communities and restrict the futures of young people across the continent.
The UK may be leaving the EU, but it is still part of Europe, even if only geographically in the minds of select groups. Choices like this are breaking down fundamental relations and isolating us further. By rejecting a programme like Erasmus + that fosters diversity and international connection, we are sacrificing all the proven benefits and undoing years of progress. It feels like the government is cutting off its nose to spite its face, just to prove a point and, unfortunately, the UK as a whole will be poorer for it.
Written by Harriet Thornley
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