(From the 1.1.2021 edition of the Jewish Telegraph)
THE UK has left the European Union and signed a new partnership deal with it. One of the most contentious issues has been the UK’s withdrawal from the Erasmus scheme, which offered student exchanges as well as school links, work experience and apprenticeships across Europe since 1987. ADAM CAILLER spoke to people who had benefited from the scheme, and what they’ve made of the decision to leave it.
UNDER the auspices of the British Council, PR consultant Drew Salisbury enrolled on the Erasmus scheme’s English Language Assistants programme, which offered paid teaching placements abroad.
He was given up to £400 a month financial support to cover basic living expenses.
Drew, who has a degree in French and politics from The University of Nottingham, was 21 when he was living in France.
The 26-year-old said: “This was a perfect opportunity for me to live in France — a country of which I am extremely fond — and to truly immerse myself within the language and culture, travel, teach and gain invaluable life experiences along the way.
“The financial support was made available to all students who enrolled on the ELA programme.
“I also had friends who completed apprenticeships and other vocational training placements across Europe at hotel chains and tech companies, for instance.
“Most importantly, I had a network of other Erasmus students before even landing in the country.
“What makes the Erasmus scheme so superb is the amount of support and guidance that is provided to students — both financially and culturally.
“As well as the monthly grant, I attended welcoming events held throughout the département d’Indre-et-Loire where I was able to meet other students and build a small community from the outset.”
Those who partake in the scheme are given workshops and handbooks on how best to prepare for the year abroad, too.
This, Drew said, helps to ease them into what could be an overwhelming experience of packing up and moving to a new country.
“The direction and assistance provided by the programme was second-to-none,” he said.
When news broke of the UK pulling out of the scheme, Drew admits he was “deeply disheartened”.
He said: “The Erasmus scheme allows for a depth of engagement with — and comprehension of — other countries that no peripatetic or laissez-faire gap year can equal.”
The scheme will, in theory, be replaced by the Turing Scheme.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that “students will have the opportunity not just to go to European universities but to go to the best universities in the world, because we want our young people to experience the immense intellectual stimulation of Europe but also of the whole world”.
Drew continued: “The loss of the Erasmus programme is, without doubt, a huge blow for British students.
“While I am pleased that the Government has promised an alternative, I fear this is going to be a watered-down version.
“At the same time, it is not yet known how much will be allocated per student, if this is equal for each person and whether it will be made available on top of student grants and loans.
“I also hope that this does not make British students feel excluded or isolated from their European counterparts.”
Sam Gershuny, who read physics at the University of Leeds, spent a year in Valencia, Spain, studying the native language at the University of Valencia, and received around £320 per month in financial support from the Erasmus scheme.
The 23-year-old Londoner said: “You need a lot of support while you’re out there, but without that there will be so many more who wouldn’t be able to even think about it.
“Coming from England, you live where everyone speaks English, so nobody has an aspiration of learning another language.
“It motivated me to want to learn a language and learn about other cultures.
“I didn’t realise how much it means to have the ability to speak in someone else’s mother tongue.
“Being able to connect with people I wouldn’t have been able to connect with was incredible, and distancing ourselves could have damaging effects.”
He added: “The benefit of going to a country in Europe was that it was incredibly close by, and gives you that money you need to support you. It covers your rent and food depending on where you go.
“Without that, people won’t be able to have the same opportunities I had.”
Edinburgh-born Danielle Bett, 31, read international relations and Spanish at the University of St Andrews and spent a year in Madrid doing a teaching programme with the British Council.
The outgoing public affairs manager for the Jewish Leadership Council (Scotland) told me: “The programme allowed me to live in Spain and improve my Spanish.
“It gave me life experience of living abroad and managing myself with support that I wouldn’t have had if I just went by myself.
“For students on language courses, losing Erasmus is huge because it makes the entire living and moving process so much easier.
“It’s far less stressful because of the support you get, and you don’t need to worry about finding a job at pace because of the grants.
“You also get extra course points for being on Erasmus.”
Danielle was dismayed by the UK pulling out of the scheme, even more so as details on the proposed Turing Scheme are scant.
She also pointed to how her non-European, mainly Israeli, friends looked on with envy as she took part in the Erasmus scheme.
She explained: “Culture and language are so tied in, and there’s only so much you can do in a language setting.
“Non-Europeans look at it with envy as something they couldn’t do — to lose it is a shame.
“When I was in Spain, being enrolled in Erasmus meant I was given a five-year Spanish residency/working visa permit, which I assume will now be lost because of Brexit.”
Ava Cohen, 20, is currently between two Erasmus placements. She has just finished her placement in Catania, Italy, and is about to go to Limoges, France.
This makes the daughter of the PR Office chairman Shimon and Jessica Cohen one of the final students in the country to take part in the programme.
Her placement is safe as it works on academic years, rather than calendar years.
Ava, who is reading French and Italian at Durham University, said: “For any modern language programme, you do have to go abroad, and Erasmus is good for language students.
“It makes it so much easier to settle in to a new country. It’s not just the money you get, it’s pretty much a scholarship, and the money I got covered my rent.
“I would still have gone out there without it, but it would have been hard to live there.”
Ava cites the support you get from the day you sign up to it as “vital”.
She explained: “The second you register with the programme, you go on a list that goes to people who have previously done the programme.
“You can contact them for support at any point, which this year has been invaluable.
“A lot of people in Europe will go somewhere they don’t speak the language.
“I don’t think the UK pulling out is a good idea, at all — the reasoning behind it is that the UK is taking more European students than they are sending abroad, but that’s the fault of the universities, not the programme.
“In the UK, it’s not seen as something you can do if you’re not a language student.
“Some of my friends who are doing engineering are doing UK internships — they didn’t know the could do it abroad. It’s bad marketing.
“Pulling out has also shown we are as bad at languages as many people think, and there will be students who will lose their placements because of this.”