'EU Enriches the Student Experience and Encourages Tomorrow's Leaders' as the UK Debates the Future of Our Membership of the European Union, Education Editor Gareth Evans Weighs Up the Arguments Relating to Education

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

'EU Enriches the Student Experience and Encourages Tomorrow's Leaders' as the UK Debates the Future of Our Membership of the European Union, Education Editor Gareth Evans Weighs Up the Arguments Relating to Education


Byline: Gareth Evans

WHILE the implications of the UK leaving the European Union can be debated, there appears little doubt that a Remain vote is in the best interests of universities and their students.

Overwhelming evidence suggests higher education in Wales benefits greatly from the UK's membership of the EU - and Brexit would cut short a fruitful relationship with partners overseas.

The main issues are both financial and social - and not dissimilar to those at the forefront of the referendum campaign more generally. Professor Colin Riordan, chairman of Universities Wales, the body representing the nation's higher education institutions, said bringing together people with a wide range of opinions was a fundamental principle of university life.

And the EU provides the perfect vehicle by which to do it.

"Universities in Wales are better able to attract international students, win funding from EU projects and produce world-leading research through the flow of research staff across borders as a result of the UK's membership of the EU," said Prof Riordan.

"However, the main reason universities in Wales are committed to membership is because we believe that, in the end, it is Wales that bene-fits."

Universities Wales points to the value of student mobility programmes such as Erasmus, which every year allows a third of a million students and university staff to go on exchange programmes to universities overseas.

It said Erasmus students were 50% less likely to experience long-term unemployment - and that more than 125,000 EU students were currently studying in the UK, generating more than PS2.2bn for the economy and creating 19,000 jobs.

Prof Riordan said: "This is not about having a holiday or even learning a new language, but about building networks and understanding other cultures.

"These are the insights our students need to become the global leaders of tomorrow."

Hywel Ceri Jones is a former director general for employment, social policy and industrial relations in the European Commission.

Having played a key role in the programme's launch, he is in no doubt as to the benefits of Erasmus.

"The programme is so popular that in the last academic year nearly 10,000 students went on their exchange without an Erasmus grant to help with their extra costs, so keen were they not to miss out on the experience," said Mr Jones.

"Students come from all disciplines, not just from modern languages - from humanities and the arts through business and law, social and natural sciences, mathematics and computing, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture and veterinary science, to medicine and nursing.

"On average, each student exchange costs the EU less than [euro]2,000, including both grants and administration.

"Among the students, over 60,000 went on work placements to improve their employability - and it works."

Statistics show that five years after graduation the unemployment rate among Erasmus students is 23% lower than students not involved in the programme.

One in three Erasmus interns are offered a job by their host organisations when they graduate and one in 10 go on to create their own company.

"Erasmus exchanges are now possible with every country in the world," said Mr Jones.

"In the first year Erasmus went international, 65 non-EU countries participated. This year there have been applications from 110 and the programme now has a global outreach.

"By 2020 more than five million students will have participated thanks to the fact that the scheme is a centrepiece of the EU's 2020 strategy and receives priority funding to encourage universities to internationalise their study programmes. …

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