Students and other participants on UK-EU Erasmus+ mobility exchanges who will be abroad when Brexit is due to happen (29 March, 2019) will be protected – even if Britain leaves the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.

A no-deal Brexit scenario would have led to grants being withdrawn from 14,000 students in the UK from EU countries and 7,000 British students in Europe – but European Union legislation is to be fast-tracked to avoid this huge disruption to the student mobility programme.

The European Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee (which is responsible for Erasmus) is backing a contingency plan proposed by the European Commission. This will provide finance to all study abroad students on existing mobility activity as of 30 March – but only for a maximum of 12 months in the case of a no-deal Brexit. 

The UK government had previously pledged to support existing Erasmus+ participants from the UK through a financial ‘underwrite’, but this wouldn’t have covered students from the remaining EU 27 countries in Britain on Brexit day.

While the fast-track EU measures still have to be approved by the full European Parliament and European Council, a spokeswoman for the Culture and Education Committee said they were optimistic about a swift agreement and that legislation should be published before the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Anne-May Janssen, Head of European Engagement at Universities UK International said the emergency measures would only be needed in case of a no deal Brexit, when the UK doesn’t pay into the 2019 EU budget and is also unable to negotiate access to Erasmus+ separately. 

Relief for students

She said: “It is a relief for students and staff abroad on 29 March that they should be able to complete their studies and the Commission will continue to pay their grants.

“However, the European Commission’s contingency measures do not cover all contracts (only mobility) so we would still need the UK government’s underwrite for ongoing and already signed KA2+3 projects. 

Longer term unclear

“Longer term, if we get a deal before 29 March, then the UK remains a full member of Erasmus+ and the Horizon2020 programme for research and innovation until the end of these programmes at the end of 2020. 

“The UK government has said that they want to negotiate access to the successor programme that starts in 2021. But of course, this needs to be negotiated. 

“If we don’t get a deal, then the Commission offered the UK the possibility to pay into the 2019 EU budget which would allow the UK to remain in Erasmus+ and Horizon2020 for the rest of 2019. Of course paying into the EU budget after the UK has left is politically sensitive.” 

Universities UK has launched a campaign #SUPPORTSTUDYABROAD to urge the UK government to commit to funding study abroad programmes in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Also see my earlier blog as to why students and researchers need an orderly Brexit.