As part of the Brexit final agreement, the United Kingdom will end its participation in the Erasmus system of study exchanges, it was announced this week.
And that is a sad state of affairs, according to a group of Flemish students who have had the opportunity of an exchange at a UK institution, according to the VRT.
“It was the perfect time to live and study in a fantastic city like London,” said Louise, currently back in Belgium for the holidays before returning to Queen Mary University in London to complete her secondment in the New Year. “It is a great pity that the UK is now denying European students the opportunity to do the same”
The change also affects higher education establishments in Scotland, although the country has an education system apart from the rest of the UK.
Tijs studied for his Erasmus exchange in Edinburgh, advancing his studies in German and English.
“The decision of the United Kingdom is really a missed opportunity,” he said. “It will also be difficult for English language students to find a university in Europe where the language of instruction is English. Of course you can also go to the United Kingdom without Erasmus, but then you pay an arm and a leg. Studying there is extremely expensive.”
Filip went in 2015 via Erasmus to study at the university of Glasgow
“I chose the United Kingdom because the teaching method differs from Belgium. It is more interactive and in small groups,” he said. “The University of Glasgow is also one of the oldest and most beautiful in the world. Scotland is also an incredibly beautiful country. Living and studying in the United Kingdom is a great experience that I recommend to everyone. I hope there will be an alternative to the Erasmus program.”
The UK government said it is planning an exchange system of its own. However that system, whatever form it takes, will have to be built from the ground up, and is unlikely to be available to anyone currently at or approaching the level of higher education. And the surprise announcement this week suggests no preparation has yet taken place.
“This news comes as a shock,” said Katrien Verbruggen, a Belgian who works at the university of East Anglia in Norwich, organising exchange visits for students.
“We will have to renegotiate all cooperation agreements with European universities one by one. There is now a lot of uncertainty about the high tuition fees at British universities, but they are normally waived within exchange programs and I think it will remain so.”
A separate issue concerns the bursaries given to Erasmus students to live and study abroad, and what will replace them under an eventual British system.
“There has to be a fully-fledged alternative to those,” she said. “Otherwise, European students will be much less likely to opt for an exchange to the United Kingdom. All universities absolutely want to continue to receive European students, so that does worry us,” she said.