In praise of Erasmus+

In January 2020, Boris Johnson told the Commons that;

There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme, and we will continue to participate in it. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will be able to continue to come to this country.

So, true to form, we are leaving the programme.

This decision has highlighted a lack of understanding of what it involved. Coverage of the programme in the press, and by politicians, from the Prime Minister down, refers only to Universities, which is just one of the strands of Erasmus+ and it is time to highlight the ‘plus’ in Erasmus+ and what we stand to lose.

Erasmus+ covers schools, FE and vocational sectors, adult education, youth and sport. These are all sectors that have suffered significant budget cuts in recent years, and Erasmus+ funding has enabled these sectors to continue to innovate and learn.

There are two main actions. Mobilities enable young people, students, teachers, apprentices, youth leaders and those working in grassroots sport to visit other countries to improve their skills and address their professional needs. Strategic Partnerships support organisations in improving their provision, through sharing best practice and developing innovative strategies and resources.

Up to 2019, 4,706 mobility projects were funded in the UK, of which only 1,346 (28.6%) were to Higher Education. For strategic partnerships, 1,231 projects were funded, of which only 94 (7.6%) were to Higher Education. Indeed, in the new Erasmus+ programme, HE is allocated only 23% of the budget.

Many of the school mobilities have focused on upskilling Primary School teachers with their foreign language skills through intensive language courses in France or Spain. This has not only improved their language skills, but also how best to teach languages. Primary Schools face many difficulties teaching languages without specialist teachers, and these projects have been highly successful. Many schools use strategic partnerships to share best practice on topics from Special Needs to outdoor learning to leadership.

In arguing against Erasmus+, politicians and the press have claimed that it is elitist. This again highlights the lack of understanding. All strands have priorities focusing on disadvantage and social inclusion, and this has been a particular focus of vocational and youth projects. There are many such examples in the case studies section of the National Agency website

The legacy of Erasmus+ is the establishment of partnership working across all sectors, and there are several online platforms that facilitate this work at no cost. Schools had access to eTwinning, Youth organisations to SALTO and Adult education has EPALE. Access to these platforms has been abruptly terminated. Schools have built up partnerships and joint curriculum projects through eTwinning for many years, only to see them stopped overnight. This is a great loss for no gain.

The final argument made by politicians against continuing with Erasmus+ is the cost, and yet research by the Higher Education Policy Institute found that EU students alone contribute £1.2 billion a year to the UK economy. Of course, no cost benefit analysis has been published.

Leaving the Erasmus+ programme impacts on all ages and backgrounds. Let us hope that one day, under new leadership, we will reflect on this decision and return once more.

* Paul Harrison is a former headteacher and an external assessor of Erasmus+ for the UK national agency and EACEA the central agency in Brussels

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Barker 1st Feb '21 - 10:57am

    Its worth asking what the logic is behind leaving some Joint European Projects like Erasmus+ or The European Medicines Agency while actually expanding UK involvement in others, such as The European Space Agency.
    You could ask a Tory but dont expect a meaningful answer.

  • “So, true to form, we are leaving the programme.”

    Maybe so in England under the so-called UK Government, but in Scotland and Wales …..not quite.

    NEWS The Scottish Government :
    Erasmus+ exchange programme Published: 26 Jan 2021 13:30 Joint statement confirms work will continue to secure the benefits of programme. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have issued a joint statement on the Erasmus+ exchange programme.

    The statement, agreed by Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead and Welsh Minister for Education Kirsty Williams, says the UK Government’s decision not to associate with Erasmus will reduce opportunities for all learners and cut support for the most deprived communities. It confirms that the Scottish and Welsh Governments will explore how both countries can continue to enjoy the benefits offered by Erasmus+.

    We have been heartened by the outpouring of support from across Europe for our continued participation in Erasmus+.”

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '21 - 1:43pm

    “the Higher Education Policy Institute found that EU students alone contribute £1.2 billion a year to the UK economy”
    I think that was the figure for EU graduates who subsequently stay in the UK and pay tax: “Graduates from other EU countries who stay here to work contribute £1.2 billion and graduates from the rest of the world contribute £2.0 billion.” (
    A previous study found that, ” the total economic benefit of international students to the UK economy was estimated to be £22.6bn over the entire duration of their studies, of which £5.1bn is generated by EU students, and £17.5bn is generated by non-EU students”. (

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '21 - 1:56pm

    “Leaving the Erasmus+ programme impacts on all ages and backgrounds.”
    Demonstrating this is probably the key factor if it is to be successfully defended.
    All too often and all too easily, Lib Dem defence of the Erasmus scheme can look like it is about protecting something that disproportionately benefits a core Lib Dem demographic: affluent, middle-class families.
    Does Erasmus+ have a great track record for inclusivity and participation of those from disadvantaged backgrounds? If so, highlight that. If not (and I fear that is the case), then consider how it can be improved or whether post-Brexit, the UK could do something better, perhaps more internationally with opportunities in countries where proficiency in a second language is not a prerequisite.

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '21 - 2:04pm

    @Paul Barker “ts worth asking what the logic is behind leaving some Joint European Projects like Erasmus+ or The European Medicines Agency while actually expanding UK involvement in others, such as The European Space Agency.”
    I think the European Space Agency is quite distinct from the EU whereas Erasmus+ and the European Medicines Agency are both EU projects.
    As to why we’re leaving behind the EMA then recent events suggest that a Tory would be more than happy to give you an answer! 😉

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '21 - 2:25pm

    @Peter Watson 1st Feb ’21 – 1:43pm
    P.S. I meant to add that I believe that both studies excluded Erasmus exchange programmes so it is somewhat tenuous to link short-term visits to the UK funded by Erasmus to these reported benefits of international students studying/working longer-term in the UK. I’m sure there are benefits, but other evidence is probably required to quantify them.

  • David Evans 1st Feb '21 - 2:41pm

    Peter Watson is right in his comments here.

    1) The benefits are much greater
    2) Erasmus is a project that is of massive importance to well educated, keen, pro European middle class people, especially those with children or grandchildren. That is people like us. However, to the vast majority of the population the word Erasmus means nothing and what it offers would be of next to no interest to them whatsoever. Currently there seem to be more articles on purely on Erasmus than there are on further education or even more important, the massive loss of a basic Education for so many, many young people at the moment. It really doesn’t reflect well.

  • So Bojo lied. He does it all the time because he faces no counter arguments. Starmers race to the right will mean he will never mention Erasmus. So we must champion it before Labour backtrack and then say they always supported it and we followed them.

  • Putting the record straight on what is being attempted :

    “Erasmus+ Inspiring Inclusion : November 21, 2019 – 09:00 : On 12 November 2019, we held the Erasmus+ Inspiring Inclusion event at Victoria, in London. The event was an opportunity to showcase some of the wonderful work taking place within the Erasmus+ community and discuss how we can make our work more inclusive going forward”.

  • ·tim rogers 1st Feb ’21 – 3:24pm………………..So Bojo lied. He does it all the time because he faces no counter arguments. Starmers race to the right will mean he will never mention Erasmus. So we must champion it before Labour backtrack and then say they always supported it and we followed them………………

    Never let the facts get in the way of good rant…

    In late December last year Labour put forward 9 amendments to improve Johnson’s Brexit deal. They included environmental standards and, lo and behold, remaining in Erasmus….

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '21 - 6:05pm

    @David Raw “discuss how we can make our work more inclusive going forward”.
    Which unfortunately suggests that it has not been as inclusive as it could have been, especially over the last few years when Lib Dems have been defending it so much 🙁

  • Peter Watson 1st Feb '21 - 6:06pm

    On inclusivity, I came across this 2017 report, based upon data for UK students from 2013-2016, which “focused on the following five groups that are underrepresented in mobility: Students from a low socio-economic background; Students from low participation neighbourhoods; Black and minority ethnic students; Students with a disability; Students who are care leavers”:
    and an accompanying “toolkit” which collates “good practice from universities and colleges across the UK” (

    The report is not just about Erasmus mobility programmes. It states, “In 2015-16, 45% of all UK mobility of more than one week … was through the Erasmus+ programme”, and indicates that this proportion was declining with the growth of provider-led mobility programmes (managed by universities, etc.). Interestingly, I noticed, “The growth in numbers for both SEC groups was via an increase in provider-led mobility. However this was particularly pronounced for the SEC 4–8 group, whose participation grew by 75.3% since 2013–14 compared to a 48.9% increase for the SEC 1–3 group over the same period. Although sandwich placements account for a small part of overall mobilities these were more popular among SEC 4–8 students, whose participation rate (5.9%) was higher than the SEC 1–3 students (4.4%) and the national average (5.0%) in 2015–16.” suggesting that those provider-led programmes and sandwich placements have been more successful in extending participation to less-advantaged students than has Erasmus.

    I’m no educational expert and I’ve not thoroughly read these references, but I think that Lib Dems risk missing a very important trick if they get hung up on Erasmus as if it were the only game in town just because it is part of the EU. Support for provider-led and sandwich schemes which can provide opportunities in Europe and beyond might be a better alternative (or at least one deserving of just as much Lib Dem attention), and perhaps that sort of localisation/delegation is more in tune with Lib Demmery than an EU-managed project?

  • Can we please concentrate on the battles in front of us than the ones we lost that are behind us.

  • @ Peter Watson Thanks for your imaginative comment.

    It reminds me of a sadly recently deceased distinguished football manager once defending his team after they had lost a match by saying they had done well to get NIL……. or as the song goes, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

  • Andrew Tampion 2nd Feb '21 - 7:02am

    It is interesting that there is no reference in this article to the Government’s new Turing scheme which is designed to replace Rerasmus+ and will provide £100 million and support up to 35,000 students, when and if the Government get around to it. How does that compare to UK participation in Erasmus+?

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Feb '21 - 8:52am

    I might have guessed disability would be in there.
    Disabled young people deserve more, it’s been the issue for years, how to remove funding and leave disabled people worse off. I agree, carers need more support too.
    I write only on my experience, housing, travel, the work place and the right to life.

  • suzanne fletcher 2nd Feb '21 - 11:52am

    A good article explaining how much more Erasmus+ is about, when most think it is just about university level exchanges.
    How much the UK is missing out on has never been looked at properly, never mind costed out.

  • Stephen Booth 2nd Feb '21 - 3:55pm

    The key words in Paul Harrison’s are “a lack of understanding of what’s involved”. This has bedevilled the debate and our departure from the EU. I confess to only being aware of Erasmus in the FE context but then how many of us realised that tariff-free trading meant a welter of red-tape and bureaucracy? These are sad times as we look forward to finding out more and more this pathetic excuse for a government has landed us in.

  • Paul Harrison 3rd Feb '21 - 5:07pm

    The situation over the Turing ‘equivalent’ scheme is far from clear. I wrote to my MP (Rishi Sunak) in December with 15 questions about it. He passed them on to the DfE but unsurprisingly they have not responded. These were the questions:

    1. Will the scheme be open to all Erasmus+ sectors (HE, Schools, VET, Adult Education and Youth)
    2. Who will manage and administer the scheme (existing National Agency or private companies?) and what will be the Governance arrangements?
    3. How will reciprocal exchanges be managed – who will pay for participants coming to the UK, or are they to be abandoned?
    4. Which countries have signed up to participate?
    5. How will it streamline with Erasmus+, given that European countries are already participants in that programme? Will they be expected to participate and pay for this as an ‘add-on’, which, given the contributions they are already making to Erasmus+, is unlikely?
    6. When will the programme start, what is the application process and how will applications be assessed?
    7. How will funding be allocated – to institutions or individuals? Will the funding be ‘equivalent’ to the former Erasmus+ funding?
    8. How will costs be evaluated – the cost of a University semester will be more than a 2 week school exchange?
    9. Will mobilities be 100% funded (as in the Erasmus scheme)?
    10. Given that we will no longer have equivalence of qualifications, how will mobilities contribute to our qualifications systems?
    11. Given the shortage of language teachers, has an impact assessment been done on the future provision of language teachers through the move from Erasmus+ to Turing?
    12. How will it be integrated to the existing Global Learning programmes, such as Connecting Classrooms? Will incoming mobilities be funded with visa waivers?
    13. Will the UK still have access to EU platforms, such as eTwinning, School Education Gateway, EPALE?
    14. Will UK organisations still be able to provide training opportunities for those funded in other countries by Erasmus+ KA1
    15. Will it cover the teacher training opportunities previously provided by Erasmus+ KA1 – which were mostly up-skilling Primary teachers through intensive language courses to equip them to teach Primary languages?

  • Andrew Tampion 4th Feb '21 - 7:12am

    Paul Harrison.
    Perfectly reasonable questions and I hope that you get a reply soon. and when you do you share it with us.
    My point however is that by ignoring the Turing scheme completely this Article implies that the Erasmus+ scheme is being removed frokm British students and not replaced, which is not the case. If the Turing sceme is inferior then why not say so. If there is insufficent informatiojn to tell then mention it and say it is up to the Government to prove that Turing is at least as good. Avoiding mentioning the Turing scheme leaves you open to the charge of EU bias and being misleading.
    I did some research on Erasmus+ and found this website:
    If the figure are accurate then in the period 2014 – 2018 Erasmus averaged around 34,000 students a year so comparable with the proposed Turing scheme.

  • Nom de Plume 4th Feb '21 - 8:09am

    I am highly sceptical about the Turing Scheme. It will not replace Erasumus+ and it is not at all clear how it will work. More likely, it is a short-term political manoeuvre and will be scraped in the future. More dumbing down. Dumbing down is expensive.

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