This year marks thirty years since the establishment of Erasmus, the EU exchange programme that has opened up a world of opportunity for many of our young people. The programme has helped more than three million Europeans study abroad in different countries since its creation, and has supported more than 300,000 research, teaching and training exchanges.
Thousands of Welsh young people have been among those benefiting from the scheme, with over 2,000 participants taking part in Welsh international exchanges in 2014 alone. Over 350 students arrive every year in Bangor University from universities in Germany, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, who go back to their home countries with precious memories of Wales and with close friendships that will last a lifetime. Both my researchers in Brussels - Deian, from Llangollen, and Cai, from Cerrigydrudion, had positive Erasmus experiences in Spain and France, respectively, which opened their eyes to new cultures and certainly improved their chances of gaining employment following graduation.
Now, thirty years since the first students set off on their educational adventures abroad, Theresa May is threatening to jeopardise our young people’s chances of benefiting from the scheme, with her vision of an anti-European Britain, alienated from our closest neighbours.
The Tories’ extreme position on migration will undoubtedly impair the quality of students’ education. A recent YouGov survey of academics found that 90 per cent said Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education, and three-quarters of non-UK EU academics said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education.
Leaving the EU should not mean leaving Erasmus+. The programme’s anniversary is being celebrated not only by EU citizens but also by citizens of non-EU countries such as Norway, Macedonia and Turkey. Erasmus+, like many valuable EU programmes, extends beyond the 28 member states. This means that there is no reason for Wales’ young people to be excluded from valuable cultural and educational programmes such as Erasmus+ once we leave the EU.
Keeping Erasmus+ is one of the things Plaid Cymru is demanding as part of the white paper we published with the Welsh Government earlier this month. The paper sets out a way for Wales not to lose out financially as we leave the EU, and has the interests of our young people at its core. Ultimately, young people are the ones who will live with the consequences of decisions made over the next months and years, so Plaid Cymru will do our utmost to defend their life chances.