The government needs to pursue every avenue to stay in a Europe-wide student exchange scheme regardless the outcome of Brexit, or fund a replacement programme, the Association of Colleges has said.
The membership organisation is concerned about the potential loss of Erasmus+ – a long-running mobility programme that funds opportunities for students to learn and work across Europe.
New research by the AoC has found that over 100 colleges have taken part in the most recent cycle of the scheme – from 2014 to 2020 – which has awarded them around €77 million to fund over 30,000 placements.
It is expected that the UK will lose access to this fund if the country leaves the EU.
A snapshot survey of 33 AoC members found that UK colleges rate Erasmus+ 4.71 out of 5 in terms of level of benefit.
The study, published today, also shows that 94 per cent of the colleges could not offer their students the chance to complete a placement abroad without Erasmus+ or a post-Brexit replacement programme.
Emma Meredith, AoC’s international director, said: “Whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations, young people’s futures must be protected. Erasmus+ is the key route for college students to experience a short period working or training in another country.
“Our survey clearly shows that the programme is too valuable and beneficial to not be invested in or replaced, if or when the UK leaves the European Union.”
She added that the current international education strategy “must go further” if the government is serious about helping the UK “punch above its weight” internationally and serious about “providing parity of opportunity to all students”.
The AoC’s survey found that all college students who take part in Erasmus+ “return with increased self-confidence alongside other key soft skills”.
Ann Marie Graham, chief executive at the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said the research is evidence that international exchange is “critical to the success of our colleges”.
“We urge the government to continue to support this activity through Erasmus+ or a replacement programme,” she added.
The AoC said any replacement programme needs to guarantee the same level of access and opportunity to colleges as Erasmus+ does now, and officials should involve the college sector in its design.
“A replacement programme should include mobility opportunities within the EU,” the report added.
“It should not be restricted to the Commonwealth, English-speaking countries or to an intra-UK scheme.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The government has repeatedly made clear that it values international exchange and collaboration in education.
“The education secretary recently told the sector that we are open to continuing in schemes like Erasmus+ but we have to prepare for every eventuality, which is why we are looking to a truly ambitious scheme if necessary.
“The department has committed to cover funding for successful Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps bids until the end of the programme in 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. We continue to prepare for a range of potential outcomes.”