As the EU increases investment in Erasmus+, our future in the scheme looks less than certain

Judith Bunting MEP with young apprentices. Photograph: Judith Bunting.

Judith Bunting MEP with young apprentices. Photograph: Judith Bunting. - Credit: Archant

The EU has agreed to triple funds for students participating in Erasmus+ over the next decade, just as the UK's collaboration in the scheme looks less than certain. MEP JUDITH BUNTING says the injustice is both infuriating and heart-breaking.

While Erasmus+ has traditionally been a platform through which university students can study abroad, until now the opportunities it has provided for youngsters to work abroad have been modest. However, this is about to change. Earlier this year, the European parliament voted to triple funds for Erasmus+ for 2021 to 2027.

In a welcome move, additional funding will therefore go towards an expansion of the scheme: ErasmusPRO. This 'PRO' extension of the project not only adds language support to all apprentice placements, but also extends them to 6-12 months. The extra time will give apprentices the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in new cultures. This is a fantastic scheme for everyone who benefits from a hands-on, vocational approach to learning. As Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education and Europe, and a member of the European Committee for Culture and Education, I get to work on Erasmus+ and trust me, this will only mean more, once-in-lifetime opportunities for our children. Only last month, I invited 24 young apprentices from my constituency to Brussels for a chance to find out what's available, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

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While Theresa May's deal pledged further funding for Erasmus+ involvement, do we trust Johnson's to do the same when the withdrawal agreement bill does not once mention the Erasmus+ programme? More tragic, still, is that an estimated two million of today's youngsters were unable to vote in the 2016 referendum and thus have not had the opportunity to voice their opinion about Brexit. This is grossly unjust. The lack of representation for anyone between 18 and 21 years old on the matter of Brexit is a failure on the part of us all. It is their future that is at stake. Should they, at least, not be granted a democratic voice?

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ErasmusPRO symbolises all that is great about the EU and, most importantly, ensures young people are prepared for a world in which business is done increasingly on a global level. The ramifications of Brexit for the estimated two million young people who have come of age since 2016 are huge. By point-blank refusing to hold another referendum - a Final Say, a People's Vote, a confirmatory vote, I don't mind what you call it, so long as it is a vote on an explicit and defined Brexit deal - the current government is failing the young people of Britain. It is more their future we are talking about than mine, or (probably) yours, and were Brexit to go ahead, incalculable opportunities will be denied.

As part of the EU, we MEPs have the ability to provide youngsters with more funding, placements that are long enough to integrate new skills and the opportunity to live, learn and love in 27 other countries, yet a huge number of apprentices are being given no say in the matter whatsoever. The injustice is as infuriating as it is heart-breaking.

Looking at the current situation, from 2014 to 2018, almost 5,000 grants Erasmus+ grants were awarded to UK organisations, with 4,846 students taking the chance to live and learn abroad. In 2019 alone, €187 million [£162m] was specifically reserved for UK educational and youth organisations. With triple the funding, and extending the scheme to include longer placements for apprentices, can you begin to imagine the number of young people whose lives we could change for the better? Can you imagine the number of lives we could embolden by providing them with the means to immerse themselves in new cultures, learn new languages and pick up the necessary skills to thrive in the international marketplace? Can you see how this would massively help to resolve the skills gaps in the UK, with the kinds of inspirational, productive learners that programmes like Erasmus+ and ErasmusPRO will produce? I can, and that is why I am resolute in my belief that by leaving the EU, we are damaging not only our children's futures, but also our country's.

The young people of the UK deserve better. They deserve our trust.

The young professionals I march alongside in support of a People's Vote, the apprentices I welcomed to Brussels and the students I meet in my constituency are every bit as intelligent, curious, passionate as the adults who voted for the UK to leave.

We must not fall into the trap of assuming that age and years of life experience guarantees effective decision-making any more than youth guarantees innovation. This is not about championing one group of voices over another, but about ensuring all voices are h.eard and respected.

We need a People's Vote because we need our young people, on whose shoulders the future of this great country rests, to have a say.

- Judith Bunting is a Liberal Democrat MEP.

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