Britain preps global alternative to EU’s Erasmus scheme

With no sign of a deal on membership, 'Global Britain' is looking beyond Brussels.

Britain preps global alternative to EU’s Erasmus scheme

LONDON — The British government is moving ahead with developing a global student exchange program as an alternative to the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme.

That’s raising concerns the U.K. will walk away from the hugely popular European program from January — a decision that British universities warn would be detrimental to their connections to the Continent and could also see thousands of European students miss out on exchanges to Britain.

A spokesperson confirmed the U.K. government is “preparing a wide range of options for future exchange programmes, including a domestic alternative to Erasmus,” as it considers how to promote the country’s education connections after Brexit.

With negotiations between London and Brussels over the Erasmus+ scheme currently blocked, U.K. universities minister Michelle Donelan told an online event on Wednesday that it was “prudent” to prepare an alternative.

A British-led scheme, she said, would also give the U.K. “an opportunity to be more international,” since it would extend beyond universities in Europe. That follows suggestions that remaining a member of the EU program after Brexit doesn’t fit with the government’s Global Britain ambitions.

With the U.K. set to drop out of all EU programs at the end of the year, negotiations for Britain to participate in Erasmus+ beyond December are not going brilliantly.

Although Donelan stressed the U.K. is “still very much open to participate” in Erasmus+ from 2021, her words have not reassured the British university sector, which fears the U.K. is taking strides away from the EU programs.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, a lobby group that represents British universities around the world, warned that the government “is increasingly moving” toward a domestic alternative even if officials maintain the idea is still plan B.

“A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to develop it. This is one of the reasons why I’m so nervous about the Erasmus+ discussions, that there has always been a risk that plan B becomes plan A,” she said.

Stern warned the British option could be far less reaching, at least initially. Universities UK International has estimated that leaving the European exchange program could cost Britain up to £243 million a year because of the economic value of international students, and deprive young people of valuable work experience.

Erasmus+ would also be weakened without the involvement of British universities: Around 32,000 European students go to the U.K. every year on an EU grant.

Deep freeze

With the U.K. set to drop out of all EU programs at the end of the year, negotiations for Britain to participate in Erasmus+ beyond December are not going brilliantly.

Donelan in March said the British government was “open to participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided that the terms are in the U.K.’s interests.”

London wants to participate in the mobility part — by far the biggest element — but not in the so-called cooperation actions, which fund leaders of universities across Europe to come together to discuss areas of common interest, such as diversity.

But there’s little appetite in Brussels for what is viewed as a plea for special treatment.

Thomas Jorgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association, said partial association to Erasmus+ is not a model foreseen in the program’s rules, and said the reasons for the U.K.’s request is “a mystery.”

“You would have to change the European legal structure and invent something just for Britain, and that is something that the EU has been very reluctant to do. What they want is a unicorn,” he said.

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus could also limit the size of the U.K.’s scheme | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Jo Johnson, a former U.K. universities minister and brother of the prime minister, this week outlined the case for a global scheme to replace participation in Erasmus+, arguing: “In its post-Brexit vision for Global Britain, simply continuing as a member of Erasmus is unlikely to appeal to this government.”

The U.K. should enhance its relevance through mobility schemes “not just to its closest 33 neighbours but also to the growing powers and developing nations of the world, from India and China to Nigeria and Brazil,” he wrote in a report for King’s College London. “There is little reason to ignore the experiences and knowledge these countries offer to U.K. students in an exclusive relationship with its closer European neighbours.”

Jorgensen said it came as a surprise for many on the Continent that such a small but successful program had become such a thorny topic, and said there is nothing stopping the U.K. setting up a global program in addition to remaining in the European scheme.

“The door is open, there’s no need to choose between Erasmus+ and a national mobility program. Nobody expects Germany to choose between Erasmus and the DAAD [the German Academic Exchange Service],” he said.

Money problems

Not everything is looking rosy for a domestic scheme. Although there seems to be consensus in the British higher education sector for the scheme to be run by the British Council, which already acts as the national agency for Erasmus+, question marks remain over the budget for a new program.

Unlike Erasmus+, in which students from all over Europe are funded centrally by the European Commission using allocations from the EU budget, the British government would only fund its own students.

That means the U.K. would have to strike bilateral deals with other governments interested in funding their own students to go on an exchange to British universities. That work has not yet started, according to Stern.

Some of the program’s cost could come from the U.K.’s international aid budget, Johnson proposed, but he admitted that will not be sufficient. There is precedent in using aid money to fund research projects linking scholars from Britain and developing nations, but the government might struggle to justify using development money to support Brits abroad.

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus could also limit the size of the U.K.’s scheme, Stern said, urging the Treasury to reassure universities that it remains “willing to fund something of the ambition and the scale that the Department for Education is considering.”

Are you a professional following the impact of Brexit on your industry? Brexit Transition Pro, our premium service for professionals, helps you navigate the policy, and regulatory changes to come. Email pro@politico.eu to request a trial.

Source : Politico EU More   

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EU Parliament calls for slave trade to be labeled ‘crime against humanity’

MEPs call for December 2 to be 'European Day commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade.'

EU Parliament calls for slave trade to be labeled ‘crime against humanity’

Members of the European Parliament on Friday backed a resolution calling on the EU to recognize the slave trade as a “crime against humanity” and make December 2 the “European Day commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”

The resolution, backed by 493 MEPs with 104 voting against, is not binding but aimed at putting pressure on European governments to take action against racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the United States and a wave of worldwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Younous Omarjee, a French far-left MEP who was behind the call, said in a statement that the Parliament now becomes the “first international institution to proclaim … that the transatlantic trade and slavery are a ‘crime against humanity.'”

“In this moment of international indignation against the racist murder of George Floyd … of the collective denunciation of continuous stigmatizations, of permanent discrimination against non-white people … we must be brave enough to take action,” Omarjee wrote.

“The adoption of the resolution is a historically important victory,” said Alice Bah Kuhnke of the Greens. ”It shows that progressive forces, across party borders in the EP, stand firm in our call to end racism and discrimination in the US and in the EU, and to condemn police violence and attacks on journalists who are documenting the protests.”

She added: “The situation, with the public demonstrations and strong opposition to racism, gives us an opportunity to take important political steps to address racism, discrimination and police violence both legally and in our action. If not now, when?”

The resolution, put forward by MEPs from the three biggest political groups, calls on the EU to “officially acknowledge past injustices and crimes against humanity committed against black people and people of color, declare the slave trade a crime against humanity” and calls for December 2 “to be designated the European Day commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”

The worldwide protests, the resolution adds, “led to the recollection of Europe’s colonial past and its role in the transatlantic slave trade.” It also recommended the introduction of the “history of black people and people of color” into school curricula and holding a “European Anti-Racism Summit on combating structural discrimination in Europe.”

The resolution was adopted days after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made an impassioned speech to MEPs in which she admitted that she had not personally experienced discrimination and urged steps to end both overt injustices and invisible bias.

“We relentlessly need to fight racism and discrimination: visible discrimination, of course, but also more subtle racism and discrimination, our unconscious biases,” she said.

Just before von der Leyen’s speech, Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, a black MEP from the Greens group, told her colleagues that she had filed a legal complaint after several Belgian police officers “brutally pressed” her against a wall in order to search her.

The incident led European Parliament President David Sassoli to send a letter to Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès asking her to take “immediate and necessary measures” to resolve the case.

“As president of this institution, and in the name of MEPs, I firmly condemn any disproportionate use of violence, including from the police,” Sassoli wrote.

Source : Politico EU More   

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