Britain’s future membership of a popular European student programme has been thrown into fresh doubt, sparking concern online.
MPs defeated an amendment in parliament that would have forced the government to negotiate to remain in Erasmus after Brexit.
New Clause 10, which was introduced in the House of Commons by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran late on Wednesday, was defeated by 344 votes to 254.
Moran’s amendment would have required Boris Johnson’s government to "negotiate continuing full membership" of the educational exchange programme, which has been running since 1987 and enabled millions of Europeans to study and train overseas.
In a statement to Euronews, Moran said: “Erasmus has transformed the way we think about education – it has made studying abroad fashionable and affordable.
She warned that the government had threatened to “negotiate away our membership of Erasmus if they think they could do a better job”.
The news led to concerns on social media from former Erasmus students and universities that British students would no longer take part in the programme when the UK leaves the EU at the end of 2020.
Erasmus spent €14.7bn on grants for Europeans to study abroad between 2014 and 2020, including around €1bn on British students alone. In 2018, the EU voted to extend the programme until the end of 2027 and doubled its budget to €30bn.
But the government hit back at claims on Thursday. In a statement, the Department for Education told Euronews that it was “committed to continuing the academic relationship between the UK and the EU if it is in our interests to do so”.
“As we enter negotiations with the EU, we want to ensure that UK and European students can continue to benefit from each other’s world-leading education systems.”
Chris Skidmore, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, accused the Liberal Democrats of “game-playing” in a tweet on Thursday.
“We remain open to participation and this will be part of future negotiations with the EU - we highly value international student exchanges.”
Speaking in parliament, Under-Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union James Duddridge told MPs that the government had “made it clear that we are open to maintaining cooperation and expanding cooperation in education".
“We strongly believe in the value of international - not just European - exchange and it is very much part of our vision for global Britain,” he said.
Vivienne Stern, director at Universities UK International, saidshe was pleased that the universities minister has confirmed that "the government is still open to participation in the programme, and that this will form part of future negotiations with the EU."
Stern added that 17,500 students a year could lose out if the UK did not participate in Erasmus, and that those who stand to lose the most are those who cannot afford to travel without financial support.
"Our economy benefits from graduates who bring global skills and networks to local businesses," she said, adding that Erasmus students generated £420 million in income for the UK.
Under the Withdrawal Agreement, Britain remains a part of Erasmus until the end of the year and as such UK students are still eligible for grants until the end of 2020.