My Lords, the referendum on Brexit shows that young people in particular want to remain in Europe. Now that we are leaving, it is important that young people’s opportunities to learn, study and exchange in Europe are an opportunity to bring young people back together again. Nobody can doubt the value and importance of Erasmus+. Every year, through the Erasmus programme, 17,000 UK university students, plus hundreds more college students and apprentices, study or work abroad. The opportunities that Erasmus offers to UK students, particularly young people, to study, work, volunteer, teach and train abroad are irreplaceable.
For school pupils, the scheme offers the youth exchange programme and volunteering opportunities, and volunteering is something that the Government have always been very keen on. Erasmus+ has paid out tens of millions of pounds in grants to UK schools for exchanges, collaborative programmes and professional development. If we want to be an outward-looking country that realises the importance of friendship, sharing ideas, culture, language, education and opportunities, and brings people together, this is not a programme that you would consider watering down or dispensing with.
“what people remember most about studying abroad normally isn’t that they increased their employment prospects”— which of course they do—
“They recall learning a new language, falling in love with the culture and building new friendships.”
I am somewhat confused about the Government’s stance or policy on Erasmus+. Is it that of the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, who said:
“We do truly understand the value that such exchange programmes bring all students right across the United Kingdom, but to ensure that we are able to continue to offer that we will also develop our own alternative arrangements should they be needed”?—[Official Report, Commons, 14/01/20; col. 912.]
Or is it that of our Prime Minister, who said:
“There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme, and we will continue to participate in it. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will be able to continue to come to this country”?—[Official Report, Commons, 15/01/20; col. 1021.]
Currently the in-phrase in government is “levelling up”. We want to ensure with this amendment that there is no levelling down for students and young people across the UK, whether they be from the south or the north. By staying in the Erasmus+ scheme, we can keep that level playing field. UK universities are clear that Erasmus is not broken and so does not need fixing, and they warn that a UK replacement would find it impossible to match the reputation, brand awareness and sheer scale of Erasmus+. I beg to move.