Why Erasmus is important for students

14 February 2018

Russell Group's Head of Policy Jessica Cole on why it's vital that UK students continue to have access to the Erasmus exchange programme after Brexit.

Couples all over the world are celebrating Valentine’s Day today. But you may not know that thousands of them will have met whilst on an Erasmus placement abroad. In fact, over a quarter of Erasmus alumni met their life partner whilst studying in another country and the European Commission has estimated that more than a million babies may have been born as a result!

This is a rather lovely outcome from the EU’s flagship student exchange programme. But there are numerous other advantages for those who take part, including:

  • Improved academic attainment: a higher proportion of those who study abroad have been found to achieve a First Class or Upper Second Class degree compared with those who stay in one place
  • Enhanced employment prospects: Erasmus alumni are 44% more likely to hold managerial positions than their peers 10 years after graduation. Evidence also shows that students who have done an Erasmus placement find work more quickly after graduation
  • Important language and inter-personal skills: studies have found students taking part in Erasmus have improved personal and soft skills, self-confidence, intercultural understanding and maturity due to their time spent abroad. As our graduates are increasingly working in multi-lingual and international teams, these kinds of skills are vital to the strength of the UK economy in an international context.


However, the benefits are not just limited to the individuals taking part. Erasmus students who come to the UK are an important part of the international student community in our universities and enhance diversity in the classroom, on campus and in local communities. Visiting students make an economic contribution to the UK through the spending they make in local economies. In addition, there are important soft power benefits of having students come to the UK who then return home and become ambassadors for our country and our university system, strengthening international links to the benefit of the UK.

Whilst the Erasmus programme is best known for supporting student placements abroad, funding is also available to support staff mobility, joint masters courses and collaborative projects, including with universities outside the EU, amongst other initiatives.

The agreement reached between the UK and the EU on ‘phase one’ Brexit issues in December confirmed that the UK will be able to participate in EU programmes – including Erasmus – until the end of 2020. This is very welcome news for students, staff and universities in the UK and across Europe.

Tomorrow, ministers from across the EU will hold a policy debate on the mid-term evaluation of the Erasmus+ programme and the “future orientations” of Erasmus+ after 2020. As highlighted in the interim evaluation report, the Erasmus+ programme has significant EU added value, providing support for a high volume and broad scope of activities which could not be matched at a national level alone. However, the report also recognises that improvements can be made to enhance the programme by making it more efficient, more inclusive and even more impactful.

We are expecting the European Commission to put forward proposals for the next Erasmus programme (which will run from 2021 to 2027) later this year. There is an opportunity now and over the coming months for the UK to help shape that programme to ensure it is as effective and beneficial as possible. The UK Government needs to be engaged in this important process, especially whilst we still have a seat at the table as an EU member state.

For Russell Group universities, key priorities for the next programme include improving support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds; reducing administrative burden for staff, students and universities; and increasing flexibility on the types of placements available, including offering more short-term mobility options for work and study.

The Prime Minister has praised the Erasmus programme and in her Florence speech she indicated there are certain programmes the UK would want to continue to take part in after Brexit, “such as those that promote science, education and culture”. This would surely include Erasmus and there would be mutual benefits to both the UK and the EU if we can continue to take part.

Indeed, if we can work together with partners and colleagues across the EU to make the next Erasmus programme even better than it is now, it should a priority for the UK Government to secure continued UK participation from 2021 onwards. Building on her warm words welcoming “the opportunity to provide clarity to young people and the education sector”, the Prime Minister should indicate whether the UK intends to negotiate participation at the earliest opportunity.

Erasmus+ is the EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Its budget of €14.7 billion will provide opportunities for over 4 million Europeans to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad.


Related case studies