Education Outside Europe?

 “In terms of insights, I’ve found my world view has changed.“ – Georgia, Leeds University

“…being on Erasmus FORCED me to see the world from so many different ways and it’s made me a kinder, more understanding person.” – Becca, Greenwich University

Nicola Sturgeon described the government’s decision to pull out of the Erasmus programme as “cultural vandalism” in a Tweet on the day Britain’s slap-dash Brexit deal was announced. It’s no secret that despite our country’s close proximity to Europe, some of us live as an embodiment of the tiny island we are, clouded by post-colonial attitudes and a cultural ignorance that’s pervaded our history. But many certainly shared Sturgeon’s feelings about the UK’s decision to pull out of the programme, which has supported the mobility of students and staff between universities across Europe for nearly four decades.

Back in 2016, when I began applying for universities, I looked for courses which offered the chance to study abroad as part of my degree. Now, it’s the old cliché that your “year abroad” is one of the best of your life, but in spite of some initial challenges (stemming from my own cultural ignorance/culture shock), my placement in Denmark at Aarhus University provided some of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life so far.

Chatting about my year abroad on reflection, with some of the lovely international students I’m grateful to still be in touch with, we each agreed that our self-confidence had massively improved during our time away. The Erasmus programme provided such a unique opportunity to not only experience Danish culture as a tourist in the city, but as one of the country’s students, fully immersed in the widely different ways of teaching across the sea.

It’s incredibly true that you can’t learn culture in a classroom… not really. Even the lectures we received at the beginning of our placements about Danish life and culture weren’t a patch on the way we learned about Scandinavian life just from getting out on our bikes every day. The Erasmus+ grant was also a huge benefit for me, especially as Denmark is renowned for its high living costs. Not only did this remove one of the stresses of living away from home, but it also funded opportunities to travel. Being in mainland Europe, it was so easy to organize little weekend trips on a budget with the new friends I had made, and so accessible…  

“I try to treat everything now like I did on study abroad, so going out of my way to try new things and live as though I’m a tourist everywhere.” – Georgia, Leeds University

Boris Johnson has announced that the UK will be providing an alternative to the Erasmus programme however, in the form of the Turing mobility scheme, named after Bletchley Park codebreaker Alan Turing. The scheme promises 100 million pounds of funding to UK students, with a university quota stretching across the globe, hoping to offer students access to some of the world’s top institutions. However, it’s uncertain how long it will take the government to get the new scheme up to scratch, as it hopes to rival the many years of experience and prestige Erasmus has under its belt.

It’s also important that eventually the programme extends to incoming international students, who make up a bigger percentage of Erasmus students than those outgoing from the UK to Europe – and hopefully, one day they’ll even be opportunities for staff mobility, much like those already provided by the current scheme.

Whilst the new Turing programme looks like it has a lot of potential, especially in its promise to benefit students from low-income backgrounds, the proof will certainly be in the pudding. Unfortunately, right now this feels like another step away from Europe and the fantastic opportunities it has provided for our students for decades.

My year on the Erasmus programme opened up my mind, made me a more rounded student and inspired a deeper love for learning about the world we live in. I’m hopeful for the future of study abroad and know that I will certainly be back out there globe-trotting in the (with any luck) not so distant future!  

-Molly Rymer

Featured Image Source: Unsplash

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