Irish Government to fund Erasmus for Northern Irish students

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

The Irish Government has said that it will fund access for Northern Irish third-level students to the EU’s Erasmus study abroad programme.

As a result of Brexit, the UK have decided to leave the scheme, despite Boris Johnson assuring MPs in January of last year that there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme”. The programme, which has been in place since 1987, offers school partnerships, university undergraduate and postgraduate exchanges, apprenticeships, and work experience all over Europe. The Irish Government played an important role in the creation of the programme. UCD alumnus Peter Sutherland was a key figure in establishing the scheme while he was European Commissioner. 649 students and staff from the North took part in the Erasmus programme in 2019/2020. 

Minister for Higher and Further Education, Simon Harris, explained that students from Northern Ireland can continue to partake in the programme and travel freely to EU member states for study and work experience by temporarily registering with an Irish higher education institution. According to the Irish Times, Minister Harris said that “Hundreds of people from Northern Ireland avail of this scheme. This proposal seeks to protect the access of students resident in Northern Ireland to the benefits of the Erasmus mobility programme.” 

Harris went on to say, “this proposal is also a practical expression of solidarity and aims to provide continued access to EU opportunities to young people in Northern Ireland in what could be an uncertain social and economic environment.” He emphasised a future of cooperation between institutions north and south of the border, saying “It also gives our higher education institutions a framework to work with their counterparts in the North on which to explore deeper cooperation in education, research and innovation.” Harris tweeted that this was “a practical example” of post-Brexit cooperation.

The scheme is expected to cost the Irish government €2.1 million per year. Funding will be provided to all full-time students attending a third level institution and will not be limited to those with an Irish passport. According to RTÉ, Harris said the cost was “relatively low”, describing it as “an investment in relationships between institutions north and south” and “an investment in our next generation”.

The UK government has announced that it will replace the Erasmus scheme with its own £100 million (€108m) study abroad programme, the Turing Exchange. The scheme is named after the British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing. Boris Johnson said that it will involve “the best universities in the world” and not be reserved for only European universities as the Erasmus programme is. The Department of Education in the UK has said it plans to provide funding to send around 35,000 students to go on placements across the world from September. However, it is not expected that the new scheme will fund students coming to the UK, as the Erasmus programme currently does.