‘Positive reaction’ from Northern Ireland students to Erasmus plan

Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Third-level students in Northern Ireland have reacted positively to plans to give them access to the Erasmus programme post-Brexit, Ireland’s Further and Higher Education Minister has said.

Simon Harris said talks have been under way between higher education institutions (HEIs) on both sides of the border about Northern Ireland students taking part in the EU’s student exchange scheme through Irish colleges and that early indications are that students are interested in taking up the offer.

Guidelines are expected to be outlined in coming weeks.

The Fine Gael politician also said he wants to extend the programme to further education students.

The UK decided not to partake in Erasmus after Brexit. It has been replaced by a new scheme.

But the Irish Government announced late last year that students from Northern Ireland would be given access to the EU-funded scheme post-Brexit by allowing them to temporarily register with Irish HEIs and travel to an EU member state.

It is expected to cost about 2.1 million euros per annum.

NI students are set to be able to avail of the scheme from September.

Mr Harris told the PA news agency: “Officials in my department have been engaging with higher education institutions (HEIs), north and south officers about the proposal in the first instance.

“Overall, there is a positive reaction from the NI HEIs to the proposal, with the early indications of student interest to pursue the Erasmus option.

“Meetings with all HEIs, north and south to address operational matters have taken place, which will lead to guidelines on the scheme.

“Further meetings are planned for the coming weeks, with a view to having the scheme in place for the commencement of the 2021/2022 academic year.”

The Wicklow TD also said his department was “committed” to exploring an extension to the initiative to include further education students.

“Work on this is currently under way,” he added.

It comes as the number of people applying to Irish universities from other EU countries has doubled compared with last year.

Mr Harris told the Irish parliament last week that the increase is most likely attributable to Brexit.

A total of 649 students and staff from Northern Ireland took part in the Erasmus scheme in the 2019/2020 academic year.

The most recent figures show students from Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster account for more than 90% of all those partaking in Erasmus, while the remainder are students from the regional and other colleges across the region.

Erasmus allows third-level students to study part of their degree abroad or undertake a work placement in another EU country.

The exchanges usually take place in the second or third year of a course, and can last up to 12 months.

The UK Government has introduced its own study abroad scheme, the Turing scheme, named after the mathematician Alan Turing, to replace Erasmus.

Schools, colleges and universities can now apply for funding to allow students to study and work abroad as part of the programme, which will fund global exchanges for about 35,000 UK students from September.

It will target disadvantaged students and those from under-represented areas.

As part of the UK-wide launch, education ministers are visiting Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to highlight the advantages of the scheme and ensure wider participation for all students across the UK.

But the ruling institutions in Scotland and Wales want to continue using the EU’s Erasmus scheme beyond the end of the Brexit transition period.

NI students will be able to access both the Erasmus and Turing schemes.