Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author.

When the UK government decided that the UK was going to stop participating in the Erasmus+ Scheme, it was a terrible blow to everyone, especially young people who wanted to continue supporting and taking part in inter-European opportunities. It was also bad news for many organisations which not only provided fantastic opportunities but were built and run on the fantastic volunteers and opportunities provided through strong European projects like Erasmus+ or European Solidarity Corps.

The absence of Erasmus+ leaves EuroPeers UK in a difficult situation; Evolve or slowly become obsolete. So, what does evolution mean? How do we do it?  To see the future we have to understand the present and find the silver linings. So, where are we and what have we lost?

We, unfortunately, lost both Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps (ESC)(2021-2027)* which together accounted for most of the youth mobility, education and empowerment projects. The UK government have started a ‘replacement’ project called Turing, [1] though it is a mere shadow of Erasmus+. Erasmus+ funds projects for education staff and youth worker mobility allowing many groups to share best practices [2] . It also dedicates significant funding to projects around sports, youth mobility (outside formal education), youth empowerment and solidarity. Turing on the other hand, does not allow any adult mobility, [4] depriving over three thousand UK education staff of the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience annually [3] . In 2018-19 3962 staff were part of an outgoing project and 4693 were part of an incoming project [2] . Turing is designed solely for school, vocational and university education mobility projects [4] . Turing won’t fund projects relating to youth exchanges, sport, long term youth mobility, exchange of good practice, innovation, policy reform or solidarity [4,6] . Projects in the youth sector of Erasmus+ had 8367 UK related participants with an additional 575 ESC participants [2,5] . Turing’s largest failing in my opinion is the lack of solidarity. Turing has no mechanism for reciprocity [1,4] meaning that it will only fund UK students studying abroad.

I know it may seem like we lost everything but there are silver linings. Let’s take a look at what can help us. The Welsh, Scottish and Irish Governments can be a great source of inspiration. Each government has shown regret that the UK is no longer a part of Erasmus+ whilst some have even started work on replacements [7,8,11,12] . There is even support for Scotland and Wales rejoining Erasmus+ in the European Parliament [10,11] . I will start with the Scottish government as it is the easiest to summarise. Scotland made it clear that they wanted to rejoin Erasmus+ and had the support of over 140 MEPs but the European Commission stated that they couldn’t join because they are a constituent part of the UK [10,11] .

The Irish Government is setting up a scheme to allow Northern Irish people to participate in Erasmus+ through Irish institutions and organisations. This scheme is estimated to cost the Irish Government €2m per year but will ensure Northern Irish staff and students can continue to participate [12,13] . Wales has one of the most intriguing proposals for dealing with the loss of Erasmus+. Wales is setting up its own replacement programme called International Learning Exchange Programme (ILEP) [7,8] . It is designed to fill most of the holes left by Turing. This means, most importantly, that it will be reciprocal so that Europeans can receive funding to come to the UK [7] . It should cover all major areas that Erasmus+ did, from mobility to strategic partnerships and from students to youth workers. It is not clear if ILEP will support EVS and ESC style mobility projects. The programme will be funded with £65m for four years and will be organised by Cardiff University [7,9] . The programme is expected to send 15000 participants and receive 10000 participants during the first four years [8] .

Lastly, I want to talk about EuroPeers. The UK has strong links to the rest of Europe through EuroPeers. The links that we have with other EuroPeer networks can be a fantastic source of inspiration, ideas and practical help. That leaves the last and hardest question to answer. What can we do to improve the situation? There is plenty of room for creativity, cooperation and fun when looking for effective solutions. I will outline some ideas that I have had but would love to hear what you think we could do.

We could set up an information project to help youth organisations in the UK as well as Europe to find high quality, up to date information about ways to cooperate and run projects. This could involve having a website or email address in multiple languages that they are encouraged to use for advice. Any EuroPeer could help to translate information to their language or promote the resource to youth organisations they know or work with. A project like this would take a lot of work but could be very valuable for supporting cross border cooperation and projects. EuroPeers UK could become a facilitator of new European exchange opportunities. EuroPeers could play an important role in finding the opportunities we have left and ensuring they are used by connecting youth organisations across Europe. As well as knowing about the new arrangements, organisations in the UK and around Europe will need to find other organisations they can work with. If we can make it easier for organisations to find each other and appropriate funding sources, we will be encouraging the starting of more projects.

The last idea I will talk about is advocacy for the return of Erasmus+ and the improvement of its replacements. EuroPeers UK, with the support of EuroPeers international, should become a strong voice for the return of Erasmus+ in the long term whilst trying to encourage the improvement of the replacements. Scotland and England do not have any kind of replacement programme in place. Wales has a replacement in development with input from many different youth organisations but none have experience with the long term Youth Mobility projects. EuroPeers could provide valuable experience and support to the development of a long term Youth Mobility aspect of the programme. We must start advocating for these types of projects and find new ways for them to continue. We will only be able to achieve our aims with the help of our friends in EuroPeers everywhere. Solidarity is often talked about in an EU context but if there was a time to work together in solidarity for everyone’s benefit, it’s now.

By Alex McDonald

[1]BBC News. 2021. Turing Scheme: What is the Erasmus replacement?. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47293927> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

[2]European Commission, 2021. UK Erasmus+ 2019 in numbers. [online] Ec.europa.eu. Available at: <https://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/factsheets/factsheet-uk-2019_en.html> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

[3]UK National Agency for Erasmus+, Erasmus+ UK Higher Education Mobility Statistics 2014-19,[online] Available at:<https://www.erasmusplus.org.uk/results-and-statistics> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

[4]Turing Scheme Website | About Section, 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.turing-scheme.org.uk/about> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

[5]European Commission EU Publications Office, European Solidarity Corps Annual Report 2018-2019.[online] Available at: <https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d6b7ad55-3f4f-11eb-b27b-01aa75ed71a1/language-en> [Accessed 6 October 2021].

[6]UK National Agency for Erasmus+, Erasmus+ What are the Key Actions?. [online] Available at: <https://www.erasmusplus.org.uk/what-are-the-key-actions> [Accessed 7 October 2021].

[7]The Welsh Government, Written Statement: An International Learning Exchange Programme for Wales.<https://gov.wales/written-statement-international-learning-exchange-programme-wales> [Accessed 7 October 2021].

[8]The Welsh Government, New International Learning Exchange programme to make good the loss of Erasmus+.<https://gov.wales/new-international-learning-exchange-programme-make-good-loss-erasmus> [Accessed 7 October 2021].

[9]Cardiff University, International Learning Exchange Programme (ILEP) – 04.05.2021.<https://gov.wales/new-international-learning-exchange-programme-make-good-loss-erasmus> [Accessed 7 October 2021].

[10]Terry Reintke, Brexit/Erasmus: Commission shall explore pathways for Scotland and Wales to stay in the programme. [online] <https://terryreintke.eu/en/blog/brexit-erasmus-commission-shall-explore-pathways-for-scotland-and-wales-to-stay-in-the-programme/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].

[11]The National Scot. Erasmus: EU chief says Scotland cannot join scheme while part of the UK.[online] Available at: <https://www.thenational.scot/news/19093760.erasmus-eu-chief-says-scotland-cannot-join-scheme-part-uk/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].

[12]Politico EU. Ireland to fund Erasmus scheme for Northern Irish students.[online] Available at:<https://www.politico.eu/article/ireland-fund-erasmus-northern-irish-students/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].

[13]Belfast Telegraph. NI students could be able to avail of Erasmus scheme in September. [online] Available at: <https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/ni-students-could-be-able-to-avail-of-erasmus-scheme-in-september-40195824.html> [Accessed 17 October 2021].

*Please note that the projects funded by the Erasmus+ and ESC programmes 2014-2020 will continue as planned under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU. More information can be found at https://www.erasmusplus.org.uk