More than 200,000 students from EU countries are studying at universities in the UK. Even if Britain leaves the EU with a “no deal” agreement, the student exchange programme will remain. Other options are bilateral agreements between universities and funding from Ministry of Education resources.
More than 200,000 students from EU countries, including Czechs, are studying at universities in the UK. They find themselves in the same situation as their British colleagues – they are waiting to see how the Brexit negotiations will end. What they want to know most is how and under what circumstances the EU Student Exchange Programme Erasmus+ will continue, and how Brexit will affect students in the UK now and after Brexit.
The European University Association (EUA), which provides a voice for more than 800 universities and national rectors’ conferences from 46 European countries, is worried about the prospects of no deal between the EU and the UK. “That would create a whole series of challenges, from students’ residence permits and fees to data sharing, to say nothing of EU-funded cooperation,” says Thomas Jorgensen, EUA Senior Policy Coordinator, who is EUA’s leading expert on Brexit.
However, in the event of an agreement between the EU and the UK, in which EUA hopes, it has already been decided that the UK can continue to cooperate in Erasmus+ and Horizon2020 for the rest of the programmes, while negotiations towards a solution for the UK to continue to take part in EU programmes are planned.
“The UK government has made assurances that students from the EU who are studying in the UK can continue as before,” says Thomas Jorgensen. “We also know that many EU citizens are on the staff of UK universities. In most cases, they should be able to continue.”
Thomas Jorgensen goes on to explain that we do not know how many of the 1.3 million UK citizens in the EU are working at universities. Their status is much less clear, he says, “particularly when it comes to the students who will become third-country citizens overnight and perhaps begin to pay fees in some countries.” He hopes that the UK will continue its association with Erasmus and the UK government will decide to retain low fees for EU students. “In that case, very little will happen. If EU students are treated like any other foreign students, then it will be much more expensive to go to the UK. At the moment, there are no concrete plans for special programmes, as far as I am aware.”
Non-EU countries, too, are involved in the ERASMUS Programme
According to data provided by the Centre for International Cooperation in Education, established by the Czech Ministry of Education and administratively responsible for the Erasmus Programme, 300 university students from the UK come via the Erasmus+ Programme to the Czech Republic every academic year. Those students are mainly from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, the University of Wolverhampton and University College London. Approximately 600 Czech university students go to British universities every academic year.
“We consider Brexit and its impact on the Erasmus+ Programme to be an important issue,” says the Centre’s Lucie Durcová. “We receive regular information from the British National Agency, which coordinates Erasmus+ in the UK. Currently, they have no concrete information. Everything goes back to dealings between the British Government and the EU.”
“The British Government is committed to doing everything in its power to remain in the Erasmus Programme,” adds Durcová. “Non-EU countries, such as Turkey and Macedonia, are involved in Erasmus+ too, and all mobility works on the same principle as in the case of EU countries. After 2020, this model which would apply to the Erasmus+ National Agency in the UK.”
Box: More than 300 students a year come to the Czech Republic, while 600 Czechs study in the UK every year.
Swiss scheme for universities
Czech universities are following the Brexit situation with a degree of anxiety. Most of them are committed to many exchange agreements with a number of universities abroad. Masaryk University, the Czech Republic’s second largest, has 38 bilateral agreements. Over the past three years, almost 450 Masaryk University students have studied the UK, while 40 students from the UK have studied in Brno. Moreover, more than 100 students are currently taking courses in English at faculties of Masaryk University faculties (mainly the Faculty of Medicine).
“We are trying to monitor the whole situation, and we consider it an important issue,” says Jan Pavlík, Director of the Centre for International Cooperation at Masaryk University. “Studying in the UK is very popular with our students. In the worst-case scenario, we will hope for the model we have with Switzerland, which is a non-EU country. Stipendia with Switzerland are part of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme, provided by the Swiss Government. In a better-case scenario, the UK could stay on in the programme as a non-EU country, like Norway, Island and Liechtenstein.”
In mid-October, representatives from British research institutions and universities came to Prague to discuss the possibility of bilateral agreements. These agreements would apply in the case that the UK did not agree on conditions of future cooperation.
Charles University in Prague currently has 141 contracts with 54 British universities. In the course of single year, more than 100 students will arrive in and return from the UK. UK officials, too, are worried about what will happen if the EU and Britain cannot reach agreement on Brexit, not least because of the effect this will have on the programme. In the event of an agreement, however, Charles University sees five possible scenarios for the Erasmus programme after Brexit.
“There will be no change, which is unlikely,” says Charles University spokesman Petr Podzimek. “Or the UK, along with countries from the European Economic Area, such as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, will contribute to the Erasmus programme and so continue to participate as much as possible.” A ‘Swiss scenario’ is also under consideration: after its exclusion from the Erasmus programme, the UK would set up its own exchange programme, as Switzerland has done. “But in the framework of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme, scholarships are given to students who arrive from abroad as well as departing Swiss students,” continues Podzimek. “This is unlikely if we consider the greater number of students arriving in the UK than on the continent.”
Another possible scenario is a centralized ‘British solution’. “The UK would set up its own exchange programme similar to the Swiss-European Mobility Programme, which would finance outgoing mobility participants only,” says Podzimek.
The last option is a solution reached by British universities. “UK Universities would enter into new inter-university contracts with their partner universities in continental Europe,” Podzimek continues. “These contracts would be regulated by the rules of a school, not a specific programme, and the exchange would be funded from the resources of a university or university association.”
He adds that the university has a great interest in continued collaboration with British universities. If Erasmus funding is cancelled, Charles University will pay affected students’ expenses from the
Ministry of Education’s special financial chapter devoted to internationalization, which is already in use for financing of Erasmus exchanges. “There is agreement among all Czech universities Charles University has spoken to on this,” concludes Podzimek. “It would be possible to finance excursions and teacher stays from the same source. Currently, however, it does not allow for funding of student arrivals – this would have to be resolved by the British universities, in line with the scenarios I have just outlined.”
British universities are ready to pay for exchanges themselves
Other Czech universities, too, remain optimistic. The University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, for instance, exchanges about twenty students a year with the UK. “Our partner universities in the UK tell us that they are still interested in student exchanges and that they will continue to send and admit students for exchange programmes even if they have to use their own financial resources, as we see with the Swiss practice,” says spokesperson for the university Šárka Stará.
The University of Pardubice is considering a similar scenario. “Should access to Erasmus funds be closed to them, the British universities we are already successfully working with (and others, too, perhaps) are looking to maintain the partnership by participating financially in support of our incoming students,” says university spokesperson Valerie Wágnerová.
The author is a journalist, working for the Czech Daily Hospodářské noviny.