Why did the UK throw away something that has been one of their most valuable assets in higher education?

It is a bit like a company that has successfully manufactured items which generated the lion's share of their sales for a very long time, and now saying "despite the massive hit to our income, we can somehow successfully survive without that product". No doubt that the EU are now going to retaliate by blocking UK from related schemes, e.g. Horizon Research Grants...

Context: Erasmus+, details about UK participation in Erasmus

  • 4
    While I agree that Brexit isn't beneficial for science (or much of anything for that matter), this feels more like a rant than a question.
    – mlk
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 10:39
  • 2
    What are "Horizon Research Grants"? Horizon 2020 research grants? Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 20:59
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 19:17

3 Answers 3


Eramus+ is an EU-funded program. Non-EU countries can join, but need an agreement with the EU. Since the UK is no longer part of the EU, and they've yet to conclude an agreement with the EU, they can't participate anymore.


Participation in Erasmus probably requires accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. See Wikipedia for an example of a ECJ decision involving Erasmus. Google Search shows more.

The United Kingdom government has pretty much ruled out any program involving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. For example, see Brexit and the European Court of Justice or many statements by leading politicians in the news over the past years.

Therefore, barring a change in government policy, United Kingdom participation in the Erasmus programme is unlikely under the present circumstances. It's not impossible, but it would require some degree of political backpedaling on an issue that is not very high on the priorities of the the UK Conservative party or Brexit-voting electoral base, so I wouldn't expect the UK to rejoin Erasmus any time soon.

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    "Participation in Erasmus requires accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice." Do you have a source for this? (I am not contesting the claim, I am simply looking for a source.)
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:00
  • @Szabolcs I cited a source for a ECJ ruling with implications for Erasmus and a Google Search for more. Are such examples insufficient as a source? I suppose I could dive into the treaty texts for Erasmus where it may be stated explicitly.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 13:16
  • I upvoted your answer, because I suspect that there might be a political linkage between accepting the jurisprudence of the CJEU and continued participation in ERASMUS and other EU programmes. I don't think, however, that there is any technical or automatic "requirement" to accept CJEU jurisprudence to participate in ERASMUS. By the way, the linked Wikipedia paragraph is quite vague and unclear. I couldn't find the ruling it seems to refer to and I didn't understand from the description what the ruling was about. Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 8:34
  • @gerrit Basically what the comment above says: the linked section doesn't really imply that a blanket acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction is required.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 10:49
  • I have added the word "probably" before "requires" to make that statement a bit less strong.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 11:42

For a motivation as to why this might be desirable to some the explanation is not income but profits (setting aside the political reasons too, which are likely strong with regard to the ECJ). Overseas students generate more profit for many universities than domestic ones as they pay higher fees. Erasmus likely makes EU students more equivalent to domestic students as part of the general goal of treating all citizens of member states equally no matter the state they are in.

So leaving Erasmus may reduce the number of EU students that choose to attend UK universities as the requirements and paperwork may be more burdensome. This is bad for academic exchange. However, this may make it easier for UK universities to charge EU students higher fees than they do presently, which may further reduce the number coming, which is again bad for academic exchange. The upside is that a university may get more profit per-student. Ultimately a university needs funding.

Now whether the majority of universties feel this is a good business move or not I cannot say. It could simply be that the people negotiating simply see more profit as a good thing that is likely to counter anything else.

  • As a comparison, some UK universities have 'J-1 Visa' type exchanges with their counterparts in USA; I believe that many California exchanges operate under this program. What it involves is that each student at their original university pays the whole year tuition fees as they normally would had there been no exchange, and the students just simply 'exchange places' for that year. It remains to be seen whether the UK pursues this type of approach with the EU.
    – Pat-S
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 11:36

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