Campaigner voices lack of 'confidence' in Government's commitment to EU scheme much-loved by Aylesbury students

Concern has been raised regarding the future of a European Union (EU) student exchange scheme following a vote in the House of Commons last week.

An amendment clause to the UK's withdrawal agreement from the EU which would have compelled the government “to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the EU’s Erasmus+ education and youth programme” was defeated by 344-254 votes.

Student welcoming presentation in Italy

Student welcoming presentation in Italy

The voting down of 'New Clause 10' by Conservative MPs on Wednesday 8 January does not mean that the UK has left the scheme yet, but rather that membership of it is not ring-fenced during the negotiations.

However, lawyer and political campaigner Peter Stefanovic, who was raised in Buckingham, contacted this paper to state the following on the rejection of the clause:

“Let’s be absolutely clear; had it passed, the government would have been required by law to make staying part of the Erasmus scheme a priority in Brexit negotiations. Whilst Universities minister Chris Skidmore subsequently tweeted “We remain open to participation and this will be part of future negotiations with the EU” the simple fact that Tory MPs voted down a clause which would have made it law hardly inspires one with confidence.”

We contacted the new Conservative MP for Buckingham Greg Smith, who voted against the amendment clause, about the fears surrounding the future of Erasmus+. He responded:

Lawyer and political campaigner, Peter Stefanovic

Lawyer and political campaigner, Peter Stefanovic

"It's quite a simple one. There are a couple of things that opposition parties tried to tag on to the withdrawal bill which were really nothing to do with the withdrawal bill whatsoever. The Government is absolutely committed to Erasmus but the withdrawal bill is not the place to put these things. It requires legislation in its own right."

We reached out to Aylesbury High School, whose Erasmus+ open day we covered in the paper last year, for their take on how the programme worked for them.

Suki Fogg, who's 16 and about to receive her French exchange student for two months next week, said:

“It would be such a shame to cut ties - where is that going to get us in the future? We've got to co-habit, we can't completely separate. Keeping connected is something we need for our development."

The Erasmus Board at Aylesbury High School

The Erasmus Board at Aylesbury High School

Regarding her own exchange, she added:

“It's going to be such a great experience. To spend four months with someone who speaks the language you want to learn - when else does that opportunity come up?"

Phia Taylor, who's 17 and has only recently moved to the UK from the US but has already benefited from a trip to Italy thanks to Erasmus+, told us how the scheme had benefited her in an unexpected way. She said:

“I'm a very self-conscious person, so when I went to Italy it really built my self-confidence."

Conservative MP for Buckingham, Greg Smith

Conservative MP for Buckingham, Greg Smith

Amelia Archer, who is 17 and also went to Italy, told us:

“I think everyone should have the opportunity that I had. It's so vital to have this - we don't want to regress, we want to have this connection with other countries, and to take it away from other people I don't think is very fair at all.”

Their teacher and Erasmus+ coordinator for the school, Aurélie Aston, spoke of the difference the subsidies make to the opportunities the school can provide to the students:

"You have the funds which is really essential. It subsidises our time, their travel, and it allows for activities - for example we did an art workshop - so when you've got that bit extra you can do these things that fit in with your projects."

Ms Aston continued:

“The good thing about Erasmus is they get to feel more European. I think taking part in these exchanges reminds our students that they are part of this bigger community."

A spokesperson for the Department for Education provided this comment:

“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 Erasmus Programme is a European Union (EU) student exchange programme first established in 1987. In 2014 it was expanded to combine all the EU's current schemes for education, training, youth and sport, and was renamed Erasmus+.

Following a referendum in Switzerland in February 2014 in which that country voted to end freedom of movement and impose immigration quotas, Swiss students loss the right to participate in the Erasmus+ scheme.

Last month Boris Johnson used the Queen's Speech to outline plans to end freedom of movement and to introduce an Australian-style points based immigration system by the end of the year.