Ameera Rajabali and Olivia Stanca-Mutanesca spent Christmas away from home this year, but neither were particularly alone.
The pair, respectively from the UK and Romania, met as graduate students in Heidelberg in 2015 after participating in the European Erasmus exchange program. After bonding through their experiences, they became best friends – now living, working and spending Christmas together in Berlin.
“Every time you meet someone from Erasmus, you have an immediate connection,” said Ms Stanca-Mutanesca, who spent a year at Durham University on the exchange.
For her, Erasmus has offered access to high-caliber UK programs, while Ms Rajabali said this has brought her broad horizons and new friends.
Future generations, however, will not all benefit from the same opportunities. As part of the Brexit deal announced last week, the UK will leave Erasmus after 33 years and hundreds of thousands of UK participants.
Erasmus is an EU program that funds university students to study abroad for a year or a semester at a university in Europe. Since 2014, under the name Erasmus +, it has grown to offer other opportunities such as internships and training exchanges.
While the agreed projects will continue to be funded, study abroad exchanges and other programs will no longer be available to the UK or to UK students in Europe.
Former Erasmus students mourn that Brexit brings an end to what many have called the defining experience of their youth.
“It breaks my heart to know that they will not only lose access to this amazing program, but the end of freedom of movement will further reduce their opportunities,” said Flora Menzies, from Manchester, who spent his year abroad studying in Italy.
Now 35 and audience leader at London-based charity Into Film, she said her Erasmus year at the University of Bologna had “literally” changed her life.
“The UK has so much to learn from its European neighbors and I fear a post-Brexit reality that is inward-looking, culturally impoverished and regressive.”
Veronika Sohlström, whose family fled communist-era Poland to Germany, said she could never have afforded to see the UK without Erasmus, which funded her year at the University from East Anglia in 2006.
Now a program manager at the Dag Hammerskjöld Foundation in Sweden, an international organization focused on global governance and peacebuilding, she attributes her UK studies to her career.
“The idea of this kind of opportunity, which I could study in the UK, could never have happened to my parents,” she said. “For people like me who came from a family that did not have the financial means, it opens doors.”
Last year, 54,619 people participated in Erasmus led by the UK opportunities, financed by grants totaling 145 million euros. Of these, 9,993 were UK students on internship in Europe, with 17,768 Europeans coming to the UK. The rest were participants in vocational training and other Erasmus + programs.
After Brexit, these exchanges will be replaced by the Turing Program, a £ 100million UK government program allowing 35,000 students to participate in international study placements in 2021/22.
“We have designed a truly international program that focuses on our priorities, delivers real value for money and is an important part of our promise to level the UK,” said Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary.
But those who work in the sector are skeptical.
Professor Paul James Cardwell, professor of law and Erasmus coordinator at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, said the infrastructure covered by Erasmus – agreements on course credits, tuition fees and other types of support – should now be renegotiated in a bureaucratic and costly process.
The estimated £ 2,800 per student covered by Turing funding seems meager compared to this task and the costs of flights, tuition and accommodation in countries like Australia or the US.
“When the exchanges go well, students from all walks of life participate. It improves the long-term prospects of these young people, ”he said.
“I fear that by leaving Erasmus these students will not have these opportunities in the long term.”
The Turing program also covers only half of an Erasmus-type exchange, funding UK students on internships abroad, but not those traveling to study in the UK. Professor Cardwell said this does little to encourage foreign universities to participate in the program and deprives UK students of the opportunity to learn alongside other universities around the world.
Ireland has said it will fund hundreds of Northern Ireland students to participate in Erasmus exchanges by allowing them to temporarily enroll in Irish institutions, at a cost of € 2.1 million per year .
“This proposal is also a practical expression of solidarity and aims to provide continued access to EU opportunities for young people in Northern Ireland in what could be an uncertain social and economic environment,” said Simon Harris, Irish Minister of higher and higher education.
The UK government insists the Turing program will be an improvement, providing access to opportunities beyond Europe for a more diverse range of students than the Erasmus program.
But Professor Tanja Bueltmann, daughter of a German seamstress and factory worker who was inspired to do a doctorate after Erasmus, said the idea that it was a project for the liberal elite was “absurd”.
“It allows people of all kinds of different classes and social backgrounds to study abroad,” said Prof Bueltmann, who now holds a chair of international history at the University of Strathclyde. .
“When you create a research environment, you need students, and when you have them from so many backgrounds and experiences, you are all the richer. We will be much poorer for that.