Many years ago I was an excitable and energetic overseas student studying Politics in Spain’s capital for 10 months. It was an unforgettable fin-de-siecle experience. There were no mobiles, no social networks, and no swiping left and right. People drank and smoked, people turned up to lectures in a foreign language the next day, people spoke to one another.
There was also a sense of optimism about the city. Real Madrid had been crowned European champions for the first time in decades (while these days there’s no stopping them). Spain’s economy was booming. España Va Bien.
I was there, like everyone else, because of Erasmus.
In short, Erasmus is an EU programme named after a philosopher (no surprises there) from the Middle Ages, Erasmus. Someone somewhere presumably thought it clever to lift the letters from EuRopean community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, or maybe it was the other way round. Good job it wasn’t Alexis de Tocqueville.
Established in 1987 and now named Erasmus+ (in that tiresome way beloved of branding consultants) to include education, training, sport and youth, the programme provides grants for a wide range of actions including the opportunity for students to undertake work placements abroad and for teachers and education staff to attend training courses.
Through Erasmus I’d made friends from Spain, the UK, Germany and other European countries (some of whom went on to successful careers – print journalism, government, and so on). I had an overseas bank account. I sat exams in a foreign language.
So as Britain pulls out of Europe, it would be a real pity to also leave the programme post-Brexit. PM Theresa May says the UK will remain part of Erasmus+ until at least 2020, but the long-term future remains unclear.
Erasmus brought people of different nations together and pushed me into living outside of my home country. I have no doubt it was a subtle factor behind my decision to agree to an Asia move. I’d lived overseas before; what could go wrong? One thing led to another – Madrid to Malaysia, Malaysia to China, and on it went.
So it’s heartening to see a campaign to keep the UK in the Erasmus programme, led by the NUS, National Youth Agency, YouthLink Scotland and other third sector organisations in the UK. The campaign will lobby politicians to maintain participation in Erasmus+ after Brexit, emphasising the positive impact of the programme on individuals and communities.
If “Global Britain” is to be a real and meaningful initiative, we need to get students out of their comfort zone. Erasmus does precisely that.