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Uncertain future for Erasmus study scheme

British students face exclusion from the EU’s Erasmus study programme after Brexit, depriving them of the chance to spend up to a year at a European university. Fifteen thousand UK students applied to join the programme in 2013.

Exclusion from Erasmus would also have what one vice-chancellor called “a stunning impact” on university finances. There are 120,000 students from EU countries at UK universities, of which 27,401 are through Erasmus with their fees paid by the EU.

Universities UK calculates that fees paid by all EU students totalled £600 million in 2014-15, and that students from Europe spend £1.49 billion a year in off-campus costs, such as rent and subsistence.

The Erasmus scheme’s UK director, Ruth Sinclair-Jones, told the Observer: “We face a sad moment of uncertainty, after 30 years of this enrichment of so many lives.”

She said those now in the scheme or applying for next year should be unaffected but “in the long term, it’s an unknown situation. We will continue with our plans until 2017 but after that we have to wait”.

Exclusion from the programme would have a particular impact on Scottish universities, with Edinburgh and Glasgow the most popular destinations in the UK for European students using the programme in 2014.

Erasmus, named after the Dutch philosopher, was launched by the European Commission in 1987. It was the brainchild of Dr Hywel Ceri Jones, one of the earliest senior British appointees to the EEC.

He told the Observer: “Erasmus will still flourish in Europe, but UK universities have been a powerful magnet, because of the English language. I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about.”

The Daily Express, which campaigned passionately for Brexit, called the EU “bitter” for proposing to “ban” British students from the scheme.

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