MPs have voted against a clause in the UK government’s European Union withdrawal agreement Bill that would have required the government to seek to negotiate continued full membership of the EU’s Erasmus+ education programme.
But the Department for Education insisted it was open to continuing the programme "if it is in our interests to do so".
A spokesperson said: “The government is committed to continuing the academic relationship between the UK and the EU, including through the next Erasmus+ programme if it is in our interests to do so. The vote last night does not change that.
“As we enter negotiations with the EU, we want to ensure that UK and European students can continue to benefit from each other’s world-leading education systems.”
Erasmus+ participation is protected under the Withdrawal Agreement and we are open to participation in the new Erasmus successor programme from 2021- this will be part of future relationship negotiations with the EU once the scheme has been finalised
The clause was among amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats calling on the government to negotiate access to the EU’s Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programmes before the end of the Brexit implementation period on 31 December 2020. There is currently no certainty on the UK’s future in those programmes – or any replacement scheme.
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Thousands annually benefit from the opportunities provided by Erasmus+ to study, work, volunteer, teach or train elsewhere in Europe. It is aimed at further and higher education institutions, schools, vocational education, adult education and youth organisations
Politicians last night voted against the clause being read a second time by 344 votes to 254, with education secretary Gavin Williamson, schools minister Nick Gibb and universities minister Chris Skidmore all voting against it. The new shadow FE and HE minister Emma Hardy voted in favour, as did shadow education secretary Angela Rayner.
Government negotiations with the EU around Erasmus+ could still take place, regardless of this amendment being voted down.
FE leaders, as well as opposition politicians and ministers of devolved governments, had called on the government to ensure that Erasmus does not become a casualty of the Brexit process.
Last August, Scottish and Welsh governments wrote to Mr Williamson to ask him to ensure the survival of the Erasmus programme post-Brexit. In a letter, Scotland’s further and higher education minister, Richard Lochhead, and Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams voiced their concerns over the future of the scheme in case of a no-deal Brexit.
At the time, the Department for Education said in a statement that the UK government had “repeatedly made clear that it values international exchange and collaboration in education, which is why we are exploring participation in the successor scheme and preparing for a range of potential outcomes”.
Emma Meredith, Association of Colleges' international director, said: "Erasmus+ is a brilliant programme for opening up the world for young people and helping show people from across Europe that the UK is open to them. UK colleges will still be able to apply for Erasmus+ funding in 2020 during the ‘transition period’. There is a definite risk that UK participation could stop in 2021, or that Erasmus+ could be replaced by another mobility programme.
"However, despite the vote this week in Parliament, the UK/EU political declaration says that the two sides will negotiate continuing UK participation in programmes like Erasmus. At AoC, we’re optimistic that securing the Erasmus+ programme for college students will be high on the negotiating priority list and that officials are aware of the value of Erasmus+ to the UK college sector.”
Judith Bunting, MEP for South East England and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for education in Europe, said: “This decision is every bit as mindless as it is devastating. Right now, young people in the UK have the resources to live, love and learn across 27 different countries, which not only benefits personal development but is good for the future of the UK.
“This is a scheme we should champion at every opportunity. Instead, this government, hell-bent on pursuing the most reckless Brexit possible, has voted to end it.
“Leaving the EU does not necessarily mean we have to abandon institutions like Erasmus+. The Conservative government has consistently pledged to minimise the damage of Brexit, yet despite talking a big game, they are once again letting down the young people of this country - and for what?”