Young British people want international exchange schemes to continue after Brexit

by Ray Clancy on January 20, 2017

Young people in the UK want to see international educational exchange schemes such as Erasmus protected as the country sets about leaving the European Union, new research has found.

Every year around 7,000 British language students benefit from a year abroad through Erasmus+, an EU programme managed in the UK by the British Council in partnership with Ecorys UK, improving their language skills either at university or working as Language Assistants.

StudentIn addition, approximately 3,000 UK school staff bring benefits to their schools with physical and virtual exchanges across Europe through Erasmus+.

There are concerns that Brexit could seriously impact on funding for these kind of schemes, but a survey by the British Council has found that 74% of people aged 18 to 24 believe that opportunities for young people to experience other languages and cultures must be maintained.

‘The benefits of Erasmus+ for the UK cannot be underestimated. It allows young people to broaden their horizons and to gain vital skills by studying or working abroad,’ said Ruth Sinclair-Jones, director of the Erasmus+ UK National Agency based at the British Council.

‘To lose participation would be a huge loss to a generation that obviously values such opportunities and the international experience that they bring. We must do everything we can to ensure the Erasmus+ scheme and other similar opportunities are protected as the UK prepares to leave the European Union,’ she added.

In addition to Erasmus+, school exchanges and teaching schemes, such as the British Council’s Language Assistants programme, are other popular options currently available for young people in the UK to spend time abroad.

A 2014 study on behalf of the British Council found that among university language students, 62% said an international exchange influenced their decision to study the subject, while a study in August 2016 found 83% of students believed that study abroad had strengthened their job prospects.

However, in a separate study the same year just 39% of British secondary schools were found to run traditional exchange trips involving a stay with a host family. There is concern that losing opportunities such as these will impact language learning more widely.

Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, pointed out that school exchanges are great opportunities to learn languages and experience new cultures. ‘The visits are a light bulb moment for some, and inspire them towards languages, boosting job prospects and connecting them with the wider world,’ she said.

‘As the UK comes to reposition itself on the world stage, languages matter now more than ever. And with the UK already facing a languages shortfall, we cannot risk losing opportunities which allow our young people to acquire these vital skills,’ she added.

The new research also found that 40% of 18 to 24 year olds claim to speak a foreign language well enough to hold a basic conversation in that language, compared to 21% of 45 to 54 year olds, 24% of 55 to 64 year olds and 25% of those aged 65 and over.

Some 24% of 18 to 24 year olds claim to speak a foreign language to a high standard, compared to 5% of 45 to 54 year olds, 4% of 55 to 64 year olds and 7% of those aged 65 and over.

However, 49% of 18 to 24 year olds admit to being embarrassed by their lack of foreign language skills, compared to 41% of 45 to 54 year olds, 40% of 55 to 64 year olds and 41% of those aged 65 and over.

Some 83% of 18 to 24 year olds agreed that speaking more than one language is an important skill to have and 86% said it would bring greater employment opportunities.

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