What Brexit Means for Study Abroad Programmes in Scotland
As the dishevelled coach pulled away from the bus station, I stood perplexed in the main square of an unfamiliar town as I observed the bustling activity around me. The quaint, whitewashed buildings baking in the stifling midday heat stood tall despite being smothered in clouds of cigarette smoke rising from the street below.
The eroded pavements which glistened in the searing midday sun were awash with olive-skinned faces, and the inescapable smell of burning rubber confronted me on my every turn. This image has remained with me ever since, as it marked the beginning of my adventure as a University of Glasgow modern languages student living in Spain. With Brexit on the horizon and change in the air, however, Scottish links to European foreign exchange programmes are in jeopardy and their fate is in the hands of our government.
For Scotland’s higher education students, the opportunity to uproot and work or study abroad is not hard to come by. What would have been formally considered a modern language student’s greatest privilege thirty years ago, is now, in fact, a well established educational experience for students of all disciplines.
The decision to spend one term or full academic year abroad has grown from strength to strength in Scotland and the UK, with a record number of 3083 Scottish students residing abroad in 2016/2017, and a staggering 18396 students in the whole of the UK, according to Erasmus.
The demand reached such great heights in 2016 that Scotland was awarded its largest ever bursary of €21million from the European Union funded Erasmus last year, which was dispersed between schools, universities and adult education around the country. Some of the highest amounts of funding in the UK was allocated to the universities in Scotland, including the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, which received between them €2,691,207 from the organisation.
‘A record number of 3083 Scottish students residing abroad in 2016/2017, and a staggering 18396 student in the whole of the UK’
However, speculation on Britain’s ability to move between European countries post-Brexit has brought about great concern for both educational facilities and students alike, who worry that the ability to fulfil one of employers most desired credentials could be taken away from them entirely. Communications consultant Robyn Dale remarked on how fruitful her time abroad in France was: “A second language and experience working abroad were fundamental in securing my current job over other applicants. Essentially I went on Erasmus to improve my fluency in French as part of my degree, but the life skills and cultural awareness I gained were far more valuable.”
A report by The Education Committee was published by the House of Commons, and explored the various non-European models which Britain could potentially replicate for students who wish to continue studying abroad. Switzerland’s approach emerged as most favourable, as it highlighted the ability of Swiss government to create their own “Swiss-European Mobility Programme” when they were removed from the Erasmus+ programme, thus providing their students with similar benefits and openings as Erasmus+. The committee concluded that if in the unfortunate event the movement and flexibility of Britain’s young people’s within the European Union is altered in any way because of Brexit, they urge the government to create an Erasmus+ substitute on British soil which will fit the needs of young people and continue the legacy of studying and working abroad.
“My year abroad in Spain was invaluable to the person I am today. My time working in a Spanish primary school inspired my decision to undertake the postgraduate course in teaching”- Louise Lawlor
As the organisation (Erasmus) celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017, the benefits of Erasmus+ have been long felt by students of all ages across Scotland. Many teachers like Louise Lawlor insist that if it hadn’t been for the Erasmus funding they received during university, which allowed them to teach English to school children in a European country, they wouldn’t be in the profession they are in today. Louise noted “My year abroad in Spain was invaluable to the person I am today. My time working in a Spanish primary school inspired my decision to undertake the postgraduate course in teaching and without a doubt living abroad has imprinted so many lasting memories and experiences that I can share with my children in the classroom.”
For others, however, spending time abroad during university may not always be a priority for their chosen line of study of career path, but up until the year 2020, it is still a widely available option for them if desired. Living abroad is undoubtedly a daunting experience, and for that reason, is not a venture some are capable of making at such a young age. Such was the case for project engineer Mark Horgan who, on reflection, wishes that he had seized the opportunity of a study abroad programme and made a temporary move to a European destination. “Is it only now having started my career and having to work alongside colleagues from all over the continent, that I truly regret not taking myself out of my comfort zone and immersing myself amongst people from different backgrounds, values and intellectual diversity.”
Despite the mass exodus of Britain from the EU is scheduled to take place on 29 March 2019, the UK government have confirmed that applicants for Erasmus+ study abroad programmes will continue as normal during the 2018 academic year. Erasmus has also assured that The National Agency will honour the British government’s current allocation of the Erasmus budget until the original agreement of the year 2020.