Archives mensuelles : octobre 2019

The Past, Present and Future of Student Exchange Between the UK and Europe

Alice Byrne, Aix Marseille Université, LERMA, OREMA, Aix-en-Provence, France 

In recent weeks, universities across Europe have been welcoming students coming to study for a year or just a semester as part of the Erasmus programme. Given the continued uncertainty over Brexit, it is possible that these students will be the last ones to benefit from the UK’s membership of the programme. The UK was one of the eleven founding members when the scheme launched in 1987 and remains in the top five in terms of overall student numbers (incoming and outgoing).[i] Yet the UK’s participation is characterised by the fact that it receives twice as many students as it sends. In 2016-2017, only 9,615 UK students travelled to a partner university through Erasmus compared to 29,851 French students. Although the overall number of outgoing UK students has increased since 2009 this is largely due the growing number of trainees benefitting from the programme; the number of students going to study in an EU university has remained relatively constant. The problem is not new: a 2006 study confirmed that UK students’ mobility to Europe was decreasing while mobility to other English-speaking regions of the world was on the increase.[ii] Unsurprisingly, lack of foreign language skills was a major factor and the continued decline of modern language studies in the UK can be expected to have exacerbated this trend. Yet if we look back to the interwar period and the origins of British involvement in student exchange programmes, it becomes apparent that this imbalance is not a new phenomenon. Focusing on this period also illustrates how and why the British government first began to concern itself with this issue.

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