I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to negotiate continued access to the Erasmus+ programme and its successor schemes beyond 2020.
Almost two years on from the referendum, the Government have not answered some of the key questions about how we will continue to co-operate with the Erasmus+ programme post-2020. The British Government cannot afford to duck this issue, because that would put at risk the future openness and vibrancy of our university and youth sectors.
I applied for this debate to bring the issue to the Chamber for the first time in five years and to seek reassurance from the Government that they will actually commit to preserving the Erasmus+ scheme post-2020. I am aware that, on many issues, Brexit hangs over us. However, I stress that this issue cuts across political parties and across pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit lines. I have gained support for this debate from Members of all parties, from the 2017 intake to the Father of the House, and representing all four nations. Those Members are united by a deep concern about the Government’s lack of full commitment to maintaining the Erasmus+ scheme beyond 2020 and to getting on with negotiating the modalities of how we would do that.
What is at stake here is the future existence of one of our most successful exports. The higher education sector is an export that has greatly enriched this country. The question is whether we will maintain an open and accessible higher education sector.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He talks about exports but, of course, we have a situation in which 10,000 students a year leave the UK to study abroad and 30,000 students come over to study in the UK. Why on earth would the European Union not want our engagement to continue?
I agree it is very likely that the European Union would want our engagement to continue, which is why, to some extent, this is an easy door to push against and walk through. The foreign students coming into the UK are economically an export for us, because they bring foreign money to invest in this country. It might seem strange but higher education is a net export, as it brings cash into this country.
We would all acknowledge that the Erasmus+ scheme has been of huge benefit to our country. Indeed, over the past 30 years, 600,000 people from the UK have benefited. Erasmus+ is unique in providing additional funding for disadvantaged and disabled students, which is why the Government should fully support the scheme.
I totally agree, and I believe the Government are in favour of the Erasmus+ scheme. We have heard positive sounds from the Government, but we now have to put our money where our mouth is.
Erasmus+ is a valuable resource that contributes a vast amount of scope and depth to the British university and youth sectors. My former colleagues and I spent three years in and out of Brussels negotiating the current scheme, which was formed in 2014, and it brought together the Socrates, Erasmus, Leonardo, Grundtvig and Youth in Action programmes—the higher education, technical education, schools exchange and youth work programmes—and sometimes we forget that Erasmus+ incorporates all those different sectors of exchange.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent and powerful speech. I went on one of the predecessor schemes. Has he seen the figures from Universities UK showing that 7.8% of black and minority ethnic graduates who have not studied abroad are unemployed, whereas 4.6% of black and minority ethnic graduates who have taken part in student mobility projects, such as Erasmus+ and its predecessors, are unemployed? I did it, and I did not turn out too badly.
The Government place great faith in the race disparity audit. Does my hon. Friend agree it is important that we should cherish and prioritise Erasmus+?
I totally agree. Some predecessor and current programmes of Erasmus+ are particularly good at diversity; 50% of its participants are from economically deprived or other minority backgrounds, and it helps improve not only grades, but longer-term outcomes. If I may say so, my hon. Friend has done very well for herself.
With a budget of €14.7 billion, Erasmus is an educational scheme that is not only continental, but global in reach.
I am particularly interested to know, as the hon. Gentleman has such a good understanding of this, why, given that such a wide-ranging Erasmus+ programme is already in existence, the budget is estimated to double to €30 billion. What would we get for that? What would all Erasmus participants get for that?
That is a good question. Not only is the youth part of the programme fully subscribed—I am talking about just British applications—but projects that in other places would be accepted are having not to be accepted at the moment because the money runs out before we are able to work down the whole list. I served on the programming committee for a number of years. We would analyse good programmes and then just work our way down until the money ran out. At the moment, the money is running out about halfway down the list. The doubling of the budget would therefore allow good projects that help disadvantaged British kids to travel and go on exchanges. That is exactly why we need an increased budget and why it is being negotiated with the Commission at the moment.
Every sector of lifelong learning is advantaged in some way or another from the Erasmus scheme, and most experts agree that Erasmus has a positive impact, as we have already talked about. Research shows that 81% of students who have gone abroad studying with the Erasmus scheme get a first or upper-second honours degree. That figure is 10% higher than the average in the university sector. At least 2 million young people across the continent have gone on these schemes in the past 30 years, with 600,000 of them having been from the UK just on this current scheme.
Until the hon. Gentleman started to speak, I did not know of his personal involvement in this programme, which is excellent news. I have just received a message from my son, who is one of the students to have taken part in this scheme. He said that this programme
“builds future leaders with the self-confidence, determination and resilience of living and making it work in a foreign culture”.
I am sure he is one of many.
I have been a foreign modern languages teacher for some years, so I know that knowing a foreign language is such a huge advantage to future employment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Erasmus programme is a very good vehicle for making that happen? It gives fantastic opportunities to young people for further employment in this country.
I totally agree. The biggest employer in my constituency is the headquarters of American Express Europe and the biggest problem it has is finding young people with language skills to go into that sector—the Erasmus scheme really helps with that.
Being an alumnus of the University of Sussex and having part of that university in my constituency, it would remiss of me not to mention the role it had in founding the Erasmus programme. Hywel Jones served as the director of education, training and policy at the European Commission for 20 years at the start of the programme. In a recent speech, he talked about modelling the Erasmus programme on the work he had pioneered at the University of Sussex, where it had made sure that all disciplines, not just languages, although importantly including languages, allowed a study year abroad that was part of the degree programme, not just additional to it. His vision was to get that idea recognised throughout Europe. He said:
“I was convinced that such an idea could be developed on a European-wide basis”.
Well, that idea became Erasmus, and now Erasmus+. From the University of Sussex was born an idea that has become so entrenched in the learning of so many that for many students it is now a byword for student exchange itself.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the House for consideration. It is not just his university that does so well; other universities throughout the United Kingdom do equally well, with Queen’s University Belfast being one of them. In 2017-18, Queen’s attracted some €1.4 million for the Erasmus project—that is the sixth highest amount in the whole United Kingdom—and since 2012, 1,429 Queen’s students have benefited from funding to the tune of €4.68 million. Queen’s University in Northern Ireland is also doing its bit.
Fantastic. Many universities are doing their bit and it is really good to hear what Queen’s is doing. In the past three years alone, £230 million has been invested in the higher education sector part of the Erasmus scheme for the UK.
Amy Walker graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in geography and international development. She says:
“I spent six months living and studying in Amsterdam, and I believe they were among the most formative, productive and happiest months of my life.”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I am glad that he has brought this matter to the House’s attention. Does he agree that, in addition to all the many benefits that Members have already mentioned, there is the benefit of increasing this country’s soft power? As we are leaving the European Union, it is particularly important that we have as many good relationships with other countries as possible. Erasmus is one way to create that soft power.
That soft power is so vital, as is the provision of diverse, international campuses that then encourage other students from other parts of the world to come to study at them. They breed a virtuous circle.
Amy said that her time in Amsterdam gave her the motivation to study. Beforehand, she was perhaps not so motivated, but now understands the importance of learning, in a deeper way than before. Another student, Ifat Shaltiel, studied for a BA in English language teaching, plus Italian and Spanish—my goodness, what an incredible list of things to study—at Sussex. She said:
“Every person I have met…in the Erasmus programme cannot praise the experience enough,”
and she considers it enormously valuable, particularly for language teaching.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the Universities UK report that says that students who study overseas are significantly more likely to enter managerial positions within 10 years of graduating, half as likely to be long-term unemployed as their non-mobile colleagues, and more likely to start their own companies than other graduates? Does he therefore agree that making sure that the Erasmus+ programme continues for the long term is invaluable, because of its long-term benefits to this country?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. There are examples coming out of our ears of the good work that the programme does.
Last month, Universities UK launched its Go International project to outline the reasons why international exchange is vital for our economy, education sector and young people. It also produced a very good little report. In fact, the Minister for Universities came and launched the project with us and said some good words about the importance of international exchange. We need those good words to turn into good actions, so that we can secure the Erasmus programme’s position. I believe that we all share that desire.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as the obvious numerical and financial benefits that higher education brings that we can see in Horizon 2020 funding and the Galileo programme, there are also socio-cultural benefits, as he has alluded to himself, to these type of exchanges? The fact is that, two years on from the referendum, we are still in the dark about what will happen post 2020. That shows that, with a lack of contingency planning, the Government rushed into this referendum, and they still do not know what they are doing now.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already used his 15 minutes. I want him to get to the end of his speech, but if he keeps taking interventions, we will not get there. We do have other speakers who wish to contribute, so I am sure that he will want to get to the end quickly.
I understand, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have probably been too generous in taking interventions.
It is not just the university exchange programme that is important. The European Voluntary Service has allowed young Europeans to travel, 50% of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds. In many respects, EVS was the forerunner of the International Citizen Service, which we now run in this country. The question is how the ICS will integrate into the new programme that goes forward.
Erasmus is currently being negotiated for renewal, but there are no clear guarantees from the Government on its future, and that is adding great uncertainty to the sector. Although the Prime Minister gave assurances at the end of last year that Erasmus would be maintained until the end of the current financial arrangements, there have been few assurances beyond that.
In December, the Government confirmed that they value international exchanges, and that, in the event of a no deal, the students could continue with these exchanges. In the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, she indicated that that was her position. The first question that I asked in this Chamber when I arrived here a year ago was whether we would continue with the programme post 2020. The reality is that we have not yet seen a strategy from this Government of how that will be achieved.
Last month, the European Union proposed an outline of its strategy. It proposed that countries can buy into the new programme, but outlined that non-EEA countries and non-partner countries can only take part as third countries. The Government must use their position now to make sure that, in the education council, they are negotiating for that clause to be loosened up. I guess I need to ask the following questions. Can the Minister tell me what discussions he has had in the education council to ensure that the clauses will allow third countries to participate at a decision-making level, and not just at a buying-in level with no ability to make decisions about the targets of the programme? What instructions has the Minister given his officials to negotiate those respective clauses, which are being negotiated at the moment, on a statutory basis? What discussions has he had with his counterparts in Europe, and what co-ordination has there been with the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure that, as we are not likely to be an EU member or an EEA member and clearly not a candidate or partner country member, we can still take part as a former member that wants good relations with the European Union?
I raised many of these questions in the Westminster Hall debate. How will our current programme co-operate with our International Citizen Service programmes? How are we setting out our strategy? I have yet to see the answers to those questions. I fear that, without proper negotiation, like Canada we will have to buy in access. Canadian undergraduates do not have access to the full exchange part of the programme and Canadian youth organisations cannot initiate programmes and activities. With the headquarters of so many international youth organisations based here in the UK, such as the girl guides, we risk their future if we do not allow them to initiate programmes here in the UK. To resolve these issues will require great clarity and direction, and an acknowledgement of the great benefits of the programme.
In the meantime, if the Government hope to maintain a youth and university sector that is open to co-operation with other universities across Europe, they should start by offering a full and comprehensive assurance that Erasmus+ and all the related programmes, including the European Solidarity Corps that takes over from the volunteering part, will be maintained beyond 2020. The Government should seek to represent Britain’s interests in the council and reach an understanding that if we are unable to negotiate access, we will ensure that Britain creates a scheme that is equivalent and equally financed.
Finally, I should like to emphasise a few of the key statistics of why the Erasmus scheme is important. Some 16,000 students, young people and other staff from the UK go on the scheme every year, and it is important we keep it open to staff as well as students. If staff cannot exchange their ideas, they cannot promote or co-ordinate it and so make sure students go on it. As I mentioned, 50% of those on the scheme are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and almost 50% are in the youth programme, yet it equates to only 10% of the overall cost. The whole programme is important.
In conclusion, I urge the Government to negotiate continued access to the Erasmus+ programme and all its successors, not after Brexit day but now.
It is a great pleasure to speak in the Chamber about Erasmus+. I am delighted to be here and to speak on behalf of British universities. I have received feedback from Universities UK, the Russell Group and MillionPlus, the association of newer universities, and I speak as the representative of Chelmsford, the heart and home of Anglia Ruskin University.
Britain has 14 universities in the world’s top 100. We are less than 1% of the world’s population, but researchers in Britain are responsible for one in six of the world’s top research articles. We have among the highest level of Nobel prizes per head of population of anywhere in the world. Our universities are the jewel in the British crown, and our students matter. When it comes to supporting them, international opportunities matter. Each year, Erasmus+ funds about 16,000 British students to undertake work or study placements abroad. Through the scheme, about 2,000 higher education staff go and work abroad, and about 27,000 European students come to our education institutions.
I am particularly plussed that the scheme is called Erasmus+, because—I must declare an interest—I helped put in the “+”. This great project is not just for universities as it also provides traineeships, internships and sports opportunities. Students who study, work and volunteer abroad are more likely to have better academic and employment outcomes. When I visited Essex University a few years ago, its vice-chancellor told me that studying abroad, even if for just a short period, was worth more than going up an entire degree classification when it came to employability.
After 10 years, Erasmus graduates are 44% more likely to be in managerial roles than their non-mobile counterparts, and the positive impact is especially great for those from less advantaged backgrounds, because the ability to cope with changing circumstances and the development of soft skills that one gets from international experience is attractive to future employers. In our global economy, businesses want clued-up employees who understand different cultures and know how the world works.
That said, the sad fact is that less than 7% of British students go abroad at the moment, so we must do better. I was delighted to be at the launch of Universities UK’s Go International campaign and to be asked to give a keynote speech. It wants to double the number of UK undergraduates who study, work or volunteer abroad by 2020. When it comes to the next generation, we must be ambitious, and I totally support that. The most popular host countries for students who go on work placements are France, the US, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy—most are in the EU. That is why it is so important that we try to stay in the Erasmus+ student exchange. I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister say in her Mansion House speech that she wished to keep an ongoing relationship with the EU in respect of educational and cultural programmes, and she was talking about Erasmus+. Doing so is the right thing, and that is the aim of the Prime Minister and the Minister.
Alongside Erasmus+, we must remember the greater number of students who come to Britain from outside the programme. More than 100,000 EU students currently study in the UK, and they bring huge cultural and academic benefits to our universities through that diversity. It is estimated that they generate more than £4 billion for our economy each year, much of which arises from off-campus expenditure. These students also generate a huge amount of local jobs, both on campus and off campus. It is really important that we keep EU students interested in coming to UK universities as their destination of choice, which is why it is so good that the Government have focused on ensuring that there is clarity regarding the fees paid by EU students. I say to the Minister that we must continue to give those EU students clarity so that when they apply for our university places, they know how much they will be expected to pay.
Another, bigger issue is the work that our universities do on science and research. Continued collaboration is vital to keeping British universities in their leading role across the world. Research today has changed. Increasingly, it is not done by one academic sitting in a laboratory alone, but delivered through networks of collaboration— between different disciplines, between academia and industry, and between people in different countries. As the Government point out in their industrial strategy, some of our closest research relationships and collaborations are with EU member states.
The UK was at the forefront of developing framework programmes for scientific collaboration across Europe. I worked with the Minister’s predecessor to deliver the latest framework project, Horizon 2020. That programme has helped British scientists to work with European scientists to make real advances on issues that affect us all, such as healthcare, environmental research and food security. These matters affect all our lives today, and the work will continue to make the world a better place.
More British-based scientists hold grants from the European Research Council than scientists from any other country. It is absolutely in our national interest to make it easy for our researchers to continue to work with others. As I was getting up this morning, I was delighted to hear Sir Mark Walport talking on the radio about the Rutherford research fellowships because they will continue to ensure that international talent comes here. It is not only the top universities that benefit from these exchanges. The top universities can apply for many other grants, and it is in fact places such as Anglia Ruskin University in my constituency that benefit, as more than three quarters of its funding has come from EU-funded programmes.
It is really good that the Prime Minister has made an early commitment to continue forming a long-term partnership with the EU in its next programme. The European Commission has just launched its draft proposals for Horizon Europe—a seven-year investment programme that could be worth in excess of €100 billion. We want to continue to participate, and I am delighted to hear that the feeling appears to be mutual. This week, German research organisations of the Max Planck Institute stated that they believe that European research is better when they have Brits working alongside them.
The Minister is rolling up his sleeves to ensure that we keep Erasmus, we keep the “+”, we keep the students, and we keep the science co-operation. That is in the interests of not only Britain but Europe, our students and the long-term future of the world.
It is an pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), and I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) for securing the debate. It is an honour to follow two Members who have played such a pivotal part in the scheme, which is valued by students in the UK and around the world.
We have heard what the programme has done for 9 million students all over the world since it started. It builds independence, life skills and an appreciation of international cultures. Moreover, when UK students take part in these programmes overseas, they project our values around the world, which is something that we should surely all welcome.
I will quote my son, who has taken part in Erasmus programmes in Germany. He puts it better than I do, in the way that young people do, when he says:
“I have had an enormous amount of language exposure over Erasmus schemes which have meant that my retention of German is incredible even now years afterwards. Living in a language ingrains it. It makes almost no sense to learn language without the degree of cultural and linguistic exposure Erasmus provides. Alongside language learning the schemes teach independence, mental resilience and social skills, which are difficult to teach in the classroom.”
He concludes by saying:
“In an increasingly divided world education should teach the plethora of cultural and international values which Erasmus experiences foster.”
I think I should probably get him to write all my speeches, actually—he does a pretty good job. That is a very clear testament to the value of Erasmus. I remember him at the ages of 15 and 16 coming back and telling me of his fantastic experiences.
While I warmly welcome and endorse the words of colleagues with regard to seeing this programme taken forward by the Government post-Brexit, I want to raise the slight concern of how the programme reaches out more effectively to more disadvantaged communities. In Redditch, we have no university, unlike the constituencies of some Members in the Chamber. We have a university in Worcester, but we do not have one in our town, and I fear that young people in Redditch might be missing out. I would like to hear from the Minister—today or at a later date—what Erasmus can do more actively to reach out and champion these values beyond privileged parents like me who will push my kids to do these things, as that will benefit the most disadvantaged societies.
Part of my constituency is Wychavon, which has one of the lowest indicators of social mobility in the country. That is quite surprising, because it is a relatively wealthy area of Worcestershire, but it is nevertheless the case. I am working hard to raise aspirations across my constituency through some of my work to bring in more mentors to work with young people, and by encouraging businesses in my constituency to sign up to the social mobility pledge championed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and others. That is part of an overall push to help young people to benefit from these incredible experiences that their more privileged counterparts would perhaps take for granted. That is a very important aspect of this debate, and I am glad to have the chance to raise it.
I am interested to note that the Erasmus scheme is looking to reach out beyond our European partners. That is a welcome angle to the scheme, because we live in an increasingly globalised world, and it is really important that our young people have these opportunities.
Just to emphasise the international element of all this, Queen’s University Belfast’s education strategy for 2016 to 2021 outlines its commitment to increase the number of international students who choose to study there. It also aims to increase the number of such students by 10% annually. That is an example of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, doing the very same thing.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and congratulate the university on its work in that regard.
Yesterday we saw the historic passing of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. With that legislation on our statute book, we can, thankfully, proceed to the next stage of EU negotiations. I am absolutely sure that our Prime Minister will want to include this very important programme in her negotiations. I absolutely and whole- heartedly welcome the fact that we have come together as a Parliament and passed that Bill so that she can get on with that. I add my voice to those who call for her to include this programme in the negotiations.
I want the Government to continue to step up on the wider agenda of raising aspiration, not only through programmes such as Erasmus, but through their other work across this whole policy space. For example, the National Citizen Service, which has been alluded to, is an excellent programme that I have seen young people benefit from. It is a fantastic example of what this Government are doing generally to help young people to have more opportunities through which they can benefit and develop themselves. Schemes such as Erasmus are a great testament to our British values and something to be welcomed. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister about his plans.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean). I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) again for securing this important debate about the future of Erasmus. He and I were both on a question time panel at our county’s university, the University of Sussex, and I know he has a great knowledge of and passion for this subject.
I too have a positive passion for the ability of not just students but those involved in education to learn abroad and for us to reciprocate, because we learn hugely from those who come from abroad to study or work here. It is a vital cog in our ability to maintain relations, to develop and to learn from other countries. I am absolutely on the side of ensuring that the UK continues to participate in the Erasmus scheme in the next seven-year block.
I maintain that it is vital for all people—not just young people—to go and have that taster abroad and to develop their language skills. The statistics undoubtedly show that people are more likely to succeed in the workplace, with the responsibilities they will be given, if they have such an opportunity. I am passionate about ensuring that we continue to participate in the scheme, and I was heartened by the Prime Minister’s recent speech in which she talked about the importance of continuing with our education networks and partnerships across Europe. There is no reason to believe that we will do anything but continue in that way.
I am, however, slightly concerned about the ongoing cost, as I said to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown. To a certain extent, this is a bit of an indicator of why perhaps people in this country have fallen out of love with the European project, as it were. For a scheme—it has become Erasmus+ and already been widened to cover training, apprenticeships and even job seeking—to go from a cost of €15 billion to €30 billion is quite extraordinary. That was why I asked the hon. Gentleman what the scheme was being expanded in scope towards.
I will just finish this point.
I understand the point that there is lots more we could fund, but unfortunately we have run out of funding. We have the same issue with funding many of our own projects in this country. It is the mentality of the European Union that you can just double the budget in one period, that causes concern about our ability to continue to fund that budget.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that money needs to be well spent and that sometimes the EU has not spent its pennies quite as carefully as we have done. However, Universities UK wants us to double the number of young people who take part in these programmes because of the benefits and because so few do at the moment. Does he agree that, if we are to double the number taking part, we need to increase the resources?
I do indeed, and without turning this into a wider universities debate, this is similar to the debate about doubling the number of students, how we fund that and how we then look students in the eye when it comes to their tuition fees. I acknowledge, of course, that these students bring funding over, so my argument is not a brilliant one, and I am sure the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) is about to tell me the same thing.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, as we are all agreed here, about the huge added value of sending people abroad, and young people particularly? It exposes them to different communities and countries and allows them to gain experience. There is also the money that goes into scientific projects. The University of Bath in my constituency is involved in engineering and science projects that are funded through these streams. It is about not just the individual student being funded but wider co-operation across the European Union. For that reason, does he agree that it is money well spent?
I do agree. The point I am trying to make is that there is an analogy between the views in this country about the European project and costs continuing to grow. As I say, no one has any issue with costs increasing because the programme expands, but to double it from €15 billion to €30 billion at a time when money is incredibly tight not just in this country but across Europe makes me wonder whether the European Commission has quite understood what many of its citizens feel is an issue.
Let us move on because I actually wish to be positive and come to the reasons why I am not as pessimistic as the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown about our future participation in the scheme. Again, for me, it comes down to the numbers. It is absolutely clear that the UK is an attractive destination for the 33 participating members of and the 160 partners in Erasmus, because 30,000 students per year are coming to the UK, whereas we are sending 10,000 over in return. We are seventh in the league table of the number of students participating. Turkey—I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not of course a member of the EU, but it is still a member of Erasmus—is one place ahead of us, in sixth place, in terms of the number of students it places. France sends 7,500 students to the UK each year. The UK sends 2,300 to France. Germany sends 5,000 to this country. We send only 1,300 to Germany. Spain sends just short of 5,000 here and we send just over 2,000 UK students to Spain.
The point I am trying to make is that this is a very attractive option for European citizens, and they will not want their right to come to study in the UK to be fettered. That was the point I was trying to make to the hon. Gentleman. There should be a great desire on the part of the European Commission and European Union members to ensure that the UK remains part of this scheme. Therefore, I dare to venture the point that we have a very good hand when it comes to the negotiations. I take the point that we should be getting on with it, but I am one of those Members who finds that point a little rich, given that MPs spend so much time in this Chamber making it very difficult for Ministers to actually get on with it and help us leave the European Union on these terms. MPs trying to make it as difficult as possible by constantly dragging their heels.
I just want to make it clear that, when I am asking the Minister to negotiate details to allow us to sign on, I am not referring to the Brexit negotiations. There is a totally separate and parallel negotiation going on in the whole of Europe about the future of Erasmus post 2020. I am just trying to ensure that the Minister is negotiating, so that we can sign on without a huge negotiation on Brexit. That is the distinction I am worried about.
The hon. Gentleman may be on to something. We know that the Erasmus programme is maintained by the European Commission. He will want to make sure that, if we do leave the European Union—I absolutely believe we will do so and he may reluctantly agree with me—we get an absolutely superb deal for all UK citizens. Therefore, to a certain extent, rather than actually giving away one of our good hands—our participation in the Erasmus programme, which so many students from the other 27 member states want to take part in—we should wrap it up to ensure that we get good terms in other matters. If we throw away our best cards, we may suffer in other areas where we do not have such a great export.
I will wrap up because it is important to hear the Front-Bench contributions, but I want to make the point again that I am hugely supportive of the scheme. It has delivered huge benefits not just for us, but for our partners abroad. I want to continue it, not least because it sends out the absolutely correct message that, while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe or ending our relations with Europe. If anything, we need to cement those relations because we are leaving the European Union. There are very good and optimistic reasons why we continue to remain a member of Erasmus, but perhaps not with the costs getting out of control.
I very much thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) for securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It is a very useful and timely debate for us to have. It has obviously created a lot of interest. I have been contacted by the National Union of Students, the British Council and Universities Scotland, which are all lobbying for the scheme to be kept because they see its importance.
Before I get into my comments, I will briefly take issue with what the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) said about the doubling of the scheme’s cost. The cost of the scheme is going to increase if the number of participants doubles. That is just how it is. It is not that the costs have spiralled out of control; the scheme is looking to increase the number of participants and to widen the type of participants involved in the scheme, which is really positive.
One thing that the House of Commons and the UK Government—not just this Government, but previous Governments—do not do particularly well is evaluate schemes to see how effective they have been, before deciding whether to take them forward. The Erasmus+ scheme has been incredibly effective and made a huge difference to people’s lives. I therefore understand why people are looking to increase the number of participants, so that more people can benefit from it.
In 2017, the Erasmus+ scheme was worth €21 million to Scotland. Daniel Evans from West Lothian College said that it was “life changing” and had made a huge difference to people’s lives. The effect of the scheme on individual participants is important, and Daniel Evans made the case that the scheme makes a really positive difference, particularly for the most disadvantaged students.
As is well known I represent the constituency of Stirling, which is home to the world-renowned University of Stirling. The university benefits enormously from Erasmus+. The hon. Lady is describing the benefit of the scheme for its participants, but one point that was put forcefully to me by the university is that the whole university community benefits from the presence on campus, and in tutorials and lecture theatres, of more than 100 international students who come to Stirling under that programme.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I will come on to talk about those wider benefits. I will talk particularly about Aberdeen, but also the wider Scottish context.
In 2015, 2,098 students from Scottish higher education institutions travelled abroad—a huge number of students had that opportunity. Around 200 students a year from Aberdeen University get involved in the Erasmus+ scheme, and 350 students come to Aberdeen and become part of our university life. Aberdeen has the highest percentage of students who are EU nationals of any Scottish university, which make up a significant proportion within Scotland. Those EU nationals have shaped the university in my constituency, and made a huge difference. Indeed, 25% of people who live in Aberdeen city were not born in the UK, and a big reason for that is the number of students who come to both our universities—Aberdeen University and Robert Gordon University in the south of the city.
Scotland has much higher levels of participation in Erasmus+ than other parts of the United Kingdom, and 9.7% of students from Scottish institutions travel abroad. More than half of outward student mobility in Scotland is accounted for by the Erasmus+ scheme, so I cannot overstate how important it is. In England, fewer than 7% of students take time to travel abroad, so the scheme is particularly important for Scotland.
It is therefore important that we receive clarity. It is good that the UK Government have committed to participating in the scheme until the end of the current funding round, but universities need clarity now about whether they will be able to participate beyond that, so that they can plan for the future. Universities are looking at their courses and numbers of students who will go there in future years, and that clarity will make a huge difference.
Let me move on to the wider benefits of the scheme. Some 93% of learners agree that they see the value of different cultures after having participated in the Erasmus+ scheme, which is hugely important. If the UK Government wish to pursue a global Britain agenda—that is despite shutting us off from Europe in many ways that I would prefer they did not do—we need young people who are taking part in life in our universities to be able to travel, participate in and see the value of different cultures, and to make those links. The reality, however, will be more difficult.
One thing that came out of the information we all received was that 64% of employers considered an international experience important for recruitment, and that was up by 37% since 2006. If any evidence were needed to reinforce what the hon. Lady is saying, that is it.
I absolutely agree. Earlier we heard the statistics for students who are unemployed, and how low those numbers are for students who have studied abroad when compared with those who have not. That is incredibly important.
We need to make sure that we increase our links with the rest of the world, not decrease them. When our brightest and best students take part in the life of universities across Europe, they showcase the talent we have in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are able to receive the brightest and best students from other places so they can study in our universities. I have discussed this with Aberdeen University. The students who come to study in Aberdeen go back to their country and continue to have links with companies in our constituencies and our cities. They keep up the links they make, which has a huge positive economic benefit. Being part of the scheme is incredibly important.
I recently met Emma Shotter, the president-elect of the student association of the University of the West of Scotland. She spoke not only about the benefits for Scottish students using Erasmus as an opportunity to study overseas, but how it internationalises campuses, as the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) alluded to earlier. Not only does it enrich our campuses, but our local communities. For that reason alone, Erasmus has to continue after Brexit.
I absolutely agree. Aberdeen is an international city shaped by its two universities. They have made a really positive difference to our city.
It is very important to have this debate now, because universities need clarity as soon as possible. It is all well and good for the Government to say that European countries have an interest in us continuing in the scheme, but we need to make it clear how strong our interest is in continuing in the scheme. We need to make it clear that we absolutely want to continue to participate in it going forward. The more the Government can do to state that case, the better for our universities, our students and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said, our communities.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing this debate and in showing that he—like the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), whose speech I greatly enjoyed—has an honourable place in the progress and expansion of Erasmus benefits. I think that everything he said struck a chord with Members from across the House. One point that my hon. Friend made, unlike the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman)—I enjoyed his speech, but he seemed to have a rather curious view of the concept of parliamentary scrutiny—was on detail and I want to emphasise that point to the Minister. The devil, as the Minister will know, is in the detail. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the superb way in which he put forward his case. I congratulate the hon. Members for Chelmsford, for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Bexhill and Battle on the positive points they made—in particular, the personal observations made by the hon. Member for Redditch—and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) on the pertinent remarks she has just made.
There are continuing misconceptions that Erasmus+ is just a higher education programme. In fact, it is open to education, training, youth and sports organisations across all sectors of lifelong learning, including school, further and higher education for both the adult and youth sectors. It took on that wider field in 2014, making it all the more important that we should fight for it to be continued in a post-Brexit world. Erasmus+ is unique in that it provides additional funding for both disadvantaged and disabled students. It allows low-income UK students, who may not otherwise be able to afford to go abroad without financial assistance, the opportunity to study. It provides them with a fee waiver and a grant for living expenses.
Social mobility, widening participation and encouraging social inclusion are key elements of the programme. As the Russell Group observed in its latest briefing on Erasmus, most Russell Group universities are able to offer supplementary grants specifically for disadvantaged students to undertake an Erasmus+ placement. MillionPlus says that modern universities educate the vast majority of students from areas of the country with the lowest participation in higher education. Schemes such as Erasmus are therefore particularly important. It makes the point that EU students in the UK, as well as UK students in Europe, are an enormous benefit to this country and may be even more significant post Brexit, as the UK reshapes its relationships with these nations. The National Union of Students also made the point in its briefing that
“the opportunity for transnational education, including… Erasmus+…benefits…students…UK education… local communities and the UK economy.”
The Confederation of British Industry has produced clear evidence that the UK workforce requires more graduates with international cultural awareness and, as Members have said today, foreign language skills. The need for these skills will become even more important after we leave the European Union, so it is vital that we do not take those opportunities away from the future workforce. There is also very strong evidence that student exchange programmes can have a beneficial impact, particularly on black and minority ethnic students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Erasmus+ also offers young people the opportunity to develop the enabling skills that translate into the workforce and every aspect of their life. The UK is currently rated one of the world’s leading soft powers. It is no surprise, therefore, that the UK has been in the top three EU countries in terms of numbers participating and EU students coming here.
I do not think we should ever underestimate the importance of that soft power. Last month, I was in Georgia—not Georgia, US, but Georgia, Caucasus—for the 100th anniversary of its independence. I went to universities and met a group of Chevening students from Georgia. As Members will know, Chevening students come here and participate in not dissimilar ways to Erasmus+. Their affection for the UK was palpable. Only last week, one of those same Chevening scholars—alumni, I should say—who had been at that meeting with the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and me in Tbilisi, led a trade delegation to this House for us to expand our trade with Georgia. That is an example of where that soft power can work.
Such programmes offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to challenge themselves and develop as individuals, and that is why they play such a beneficial role in boosting the skills of the UK workforce. We will need that to develop the workforce of tomorrow. Research commissioned by the Local Government Association reveals that the skills gap is worsening. It states that by 2024, there will be more than 4 million too few high-skilled people to take up the available jobs, 2 million too many with intermediate skills, and more than 6 million too many low-skilled people. That is why the Government cannot afford to dither and allow participation in Erasmus+ to lapse.
The importance of Erasmus+ was recognised, as we have heard, through the EU Commission’s proposals for the new expanded programme. Doubling the funding does indeed enable the EU to support 12 million people and triple the number of participants. It also makes it easier for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to have an Erasmus experience by promoting more accessible formats, virtual exchanges and shorter learning periods abroad.
It is important to note—my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown touched on this today and in a previous Adjournment debate—that this funding includes some €3.1 billion for youth programmes and €550 million for sport. The implications for the new Erasmus programme are that it would offer even more possibilities—for example, for students at further education colleges, such as my Blackpool and The Fylde College, for apprentices and for others retraining with FE and skills providers, as well as opportunities for adults to retrain and reskill. These also help to address the issues of social mobility, which this Government consistently claim is at the forefront of their policies and indeed, is part of their post-18 education review.
However, actions speak louder than words. Despite these issues being raised consistently in calls from the sector and the Labour party for the past two years for guarantees on our continued involvement, it is still very unclear what the UK’s participation in the scheme will be following the end of the current period in 2020. The British Academy, in its review of the Brexit process, says:
“Continuing full participation in the Erasmus+ programme on the basis of an arrangement that would enable the UK to fulfil all the obligations of the Erasmus+ programme as a non-EU Programme Country”
I pay tribute to the British Council, which has supplied a number of the statistics that have been shared across the Chamber today and has played a crucial part in administrating and promoting the Erasmus programme. It has also had a vital role in presenting evidence of the beneficial outcomes to Government. Anyone who saw the excellent Erasmus+ Shaping Futures exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall in February, which helped to lay out the clear advantages through personal case histories, will know what I mean.
Alongside an array of higher and further education stakeholders, we have consistently pressed the Government on this issue, during the negotiations on the phase 1 agreement and during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We tabled amendments to the Bill, both here and in the other place.
The hon. Gentleman speaks forcefully about the need to retain Erasmus+, and also, I presume, ongoing co-operation in science. Does he not agree, however, that if we are to continue to participate in Horizon Europe, which will cost the British taxpayer many billions of pounds, we must have more than just third-country status. We must also have a say in how the programmes are structured.
That is a very good point, although it might be better directed at the Minister rather than the shadow Minister. I agree that we need a rigorous debate on the subject.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, it was not until November, in a letter to my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), that the Government made a commitment to continuing participation in the Erasmus+ scheme until the end of the current EU funding cycle, and spelt out some of the details. That letter did not in any way answer our questions about our participation in the new expanded Erasmus+, which will be so beneficial to social mobility, and which will begin in 2021.
I therefore pressed the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Question Time, asking whether she would ensure that Erasmus+ was
“now a top-line item for her Ministers”
in the continuing negotiations. I was disappointed by her answer, which was non-committal. She merely said:
“there are certain programmes that we wish to remain part of when we leave the European Union, and Erasmus is one of those we have cited that we may wish to remain part of, but of course we are in a negotiation with the European Union”.—[Official Report, 16 May 2018; Vol. 641, c. 277.]
On that occasion, Mrs May said “may”, but as parliamentary draftsmen will know, “may” is not the same as “would” or “want”.
We continue to believe that it is imperative for future involvement in this programme to be on the agenda, and to be explicit in the Brexit guidelines. The Government must ensure that Ministers in the Departments for Education, for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Culture, Media and Sport are involved in the negotiations, and ensure that it is clear that Erasmus+ is a key part of that agenda. I do not doubt for a minute the commitment of the Universities Minister, but I want to see him, if not actually at the table, as close to it as possible, and whispering in the ears of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Erasmus+ is every bit as important to the future of our country, and to our young and our older people, as Horizon, or the money from EU structural funds that will be lost to higher and further education, on which the prosperity fund—a slightly Orwellian title—has yet to comment. As the Russell Group has said, maintaining our membership of the programme is likely to be less costly than an attempt by universities to replicate it, either on a bilateral basis or through the European University Association. It would be very difficult to replicate via a national scheme.
Since the phase 1 negotiations the Government have had opportunities to express a stronger commitment to Erasmus+. I have met members of the European Commission twice, and have raised the implications of Brexit for our higher and further education and skills. Everyone to whom I have spoken has agreed that it is a benefit to both the EU and the UK. It is not just a glorified twinning experience. If the Government are in any way serious about our being a global Britain, they need to address this issue with the effort that it deserves; otherwise they will not be forgiven, either by the millennial generation or by their families and friends who have seen the life-changing opportunities that Erasmus+ has brought them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) on securing the debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), and the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) on their contributions.
Let me begin by addressing an issue that has arisen in every speech. International exchanges are important to students, giving them social mobility and widening their horizons, and it is valuable to our soft power. None of that is in dispute today. I think we can all agree that it is very useful to the individuals concerned, and it is useful to us as a country to have students from abroad studying here, at a number of levels. It is also useful to us in terms of the reach of our diplomatic power. I will not focus on those points as they have been covered in some detail.
The Erasmus+ programme is an excellent example of international student exchange, and the UK has been a proud participant in it, but there are other schemes. I think about what we can do through the Erasmus programme in the EU and everything else: it is not about the EU or other programmes. On that note, it is worth putting on the record the British Council’s great work over decades at the forefront of promoting opportunities for international education co-operation, not just in higher education but through initiatives such as Connecting Classrooms and school-linking programmes. The Government were also pleased to support the Go International: Stand Out campaign launched by Universities UK International in 2017 to encourage young people to experience studying, working and volunteering abroad. Last December we also announced the expansion of the Generation UK-China scheme, giving more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to take up internships in China each year. So as we move towards our exit from the EU, the Government will continue to develop education co-operation as a key part of our international agenda.
The motion before the House is specifically on Erasmus+, however, and we recognise that over the past 30 years the programme has played an important role in achieving some tremendous outcomes. From the start of the current programme there have been successful applications for projects across all the programme’s key actions in education, youth and sport. About 12,000 young people and 4,000 youth workers participate each year, with the latter benefiting from job attachments, training and other professional development activities. We know the benefits: young people learn new skills for life and work, get the opportunity to work with their European peers, and broaden their cultural horizons.
According to statistics compiled by the UK National Agency in 2016 some 31,000 higher education students and 4,000 higher education staff came to the UK under the Erasmus+ programme. So the Government are pleased that under the agreement made on 8 December 2017 the UK will continue to participate in the Erasmus+ programme until the end of 2020, providing clarity and certainty to students and institutions.
I will now turn to the question for this debate: our participation in the next Erasmus programme. As the Prime Minister said, this is a matter for negotiations on the future relationship with the EU, but although we do not want to pre-empt those negotiations, I would like to reassure Members that the Government are looking very carefully at the Commission’s proposals published on 30 May. We will discuss with the EU the options for future participation as a third country, as the Prime Minister has made clear, on the basis of a fair and ongoing contribution. So we have accepted that we will want the option to participate and we know we must pay into the programme, but obviously we want the contribution to be fair and we will have to negotiate the terms. As the Prime Minister has also said, it is in the UK’s and the EU’s mutual interests to engage on issues relating to the design of the programmes developed under the next multiannual financial framework, or MFF. We want to contribute our ideas as the thinking on the next MFF and Erasmus programme develops over the coming months and as the details are discussed and negotiated in Brussels and EU capitals. Those details are important, and we note that the new proposal contains a number of provisions that the UK can welcome.
First, therefore, I give Members across the House the reassurance that we are actively engaged in the discussions on the design of the programme and we have made the EU aware of our desire to participate in the programme, and there is a lot to welcome in the framework proposals. We support, therefore, the decision to build on the success of Erasmus+ and to retain the basic structure of the programme and its key actions focusing on mobility and partnerships across the education, youth and sport sectors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redditch made a valuable point about how wide the net is cast as far as participation in Erasmus+ is concerned. It is welcome that the proposals recognise the central position of the higher education sector while including the opportunity to do more in vocational education and training and school exchanges, so we welcome that breadth of scope.
We note and support the increased focus on building stronger relations with the rest of the world through mobility and co-operation with third countries around the globe. Similarly, the emphasis on widening access across all social groups aligns strongly with the Government’s commitment to ensuring that all children and young people have the best chance to realise their potential through international opportunities. The proposal contains several new ideas, such as those on the development of a European education area, European universities and support for more general cultural and educational opportunities for young people, and we will consider them on their merits as the negotiations proceed.
In summary, the Commission’s proposals offer a good basis for the Government to discuss with the Commission how the UK may be able to participate in the future. It is helpful that the proposal offers scope for a bilateral agreement with third countries, and we look forward to discussing the details. We will look carefully at all the different elements of the programme and how they align with the UK’s interests and priorities in this area, and we are engaging actively with the Commission and other EU member states. For example, when I attended the European Higher Education Area ministerial conference in Paris last month, I had a constructive discussion with the EU education commissioner on potential options for UK participation, so I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Blackpool South that I am engaging not just with our officials, but the Commission’s officials on this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle made another valuable point about the size of the budget and about continuing to consider the size of the programme to ensure that our contribution offers value for money, which is vital. We obviously note the proposal for the budget to be doubled, so we need to discuss our participation based on a sensible and hard-headed assessment of the UK’s priorities and the substantial benefit to the EU should the UK decided to participate. We are focused on that, and I am encouraged by the wording in the regulation on financial contributions, which refers to a
“fair balance as regards the contributions and benefits of the third country participating”.
To make our intentions clear to our European partners, I have spent a lot of time talking to almost every member state’s’ Education Minister over the past month or so, and I have met several of them in person. They have all expressed not only the hope that the UK will decide to participate, but the importance that they attach to education exchanges with the UK. Through those discussions, we will make sure that that the UK achieves the best possible outcome for its students and institutions, ensuring that we build upon our status as an internationalist and global nation. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown for their sterling work over the years before they arrived in this House to make the programme the success that it has been.
This has been a good debate. We are very much in the early stages of the negotiations.
I would like to give an assurance on that. Horizon Europe is the successor programme to Horizon 2020, and we have made clear our desire to participate in it and there is a lot to consider in the new framework guidelines. The key point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford raised, is that it is a big programme, and the UK would make a multi-billion pound contribution if we were to be a part of the programme. We want the programme to focus on excellence—that is what science is about, and we do not want excellence to be capped—but we also want influence, because we will be putting more into the programme than all the other potential associate members combined.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).