Uncertainty in Catalan universities over UK pull-out of Erasmus

Exchange between Britain and Catalonia involve 1,000 students every year

An empty lecture hall (Courtesy of the University of Lleida)
An empty lecture hall (Courtesy of the University of Lleida) / Natacha Maurin

Natacha Maurin | Barcelona

January 16, 2021 04:28 PM

On December 24, Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, made the surprise announcement that England would be withdrawing from the Erasmus programme, which has sparked uncertainty in Catalan universities.

The Erasmus programme is an EU exchange project allowing students to go to other countries in order to study and work at discounted costs.

This last academic year, 12,564 students came to Catalonia to take part in the scheme and 10% of all Catalan students completing their Erasmus in Europe went to the U.K., and 5% of European students here were Brits under the programme. 

As of now, the 2021/2022 academic year will still be guaranteed to be funded by Erasmus grants as agreements were signed prior to the surprise decision. 

Universities, however, are still waiting to “receive information” about the future of exchanges for the 2022/2023 academic year.

Erasmus in Catalonia 

In Catalonia, this last academic year 12,564 students took part in the scheme. At the UPF, nearly a third of their 696 students who took part in the scheme chose the United Kingdom as their destination of choice. 

“We receive a lot of British students and they have been part of our community for some time, and so we are losing this also. It will be missed in our academic and university life at UPF and in all other Catalan universities.” Isabel Vallverde, the vice-rector of international relations at Pompeu Fabra, lamented the loss of British students coming to Catalonia.

“Since English has become a common international language, it is good to know it and secondly it is now used throughout the world.” Dr Carlo M. Galluci, vice-rector for International Relations and Students, explained in an interview with Catalan News why English was such a wanted language. 

However, he also explained that their university already had in place many accords with other centers throughout the world, such as the U.S. and Asia, as well as throughout Europe, where many places have begun to teach in English. 

Turing programme

Although Johnson has suggested another initiative, the Turing programme, this will only fund British students wanting to study abroad and has yet to become concrete, causing much confusion amongst university staff here and in England.

“The English universities wrote to us saying they were still waiting to hear about this new programme,” explained Dr. Gallucci Calabrese. 

With Brexit in place, bilateral accords will become the new norm amongst Catalan and U.K. universities, meaning that students will most likely still be able to go and study.

However, the subsidence brought by the Erasmus programme meant that students only had to pay their host universities for course costs.

Without Erasmus covering their tuition, Catalan students wanting to study in England could find themselves paying anything from 11,225.73 euros and up to 42,657.76 euros if looking at medical courses.

Discussions are still ongoing within the Spanish Agency for internationalization (SEPIE) as to whether Spanish students will be able to access some financial support for study in the U.K.

Valverde added that with Erasmus, studying abroad had been open to everyone,” and “not simply an experience for the elite that have always had these opportunities.”