It may surprise some Orkney News readers from outwith Orkney that our islands have the presence of three major universities: University of the Highlands & Islands, Heriot Watt University and Robert Gordon University.
The three universities produce research which is internationally recognised as excellent. Students attend who come from Orkney but also from across the world especially the EU.
The benefits to Orkney have never been accurately measured and may never be but the students bring an extra boost to an economy which is becoming increasingly reliant on tourism. The reputation of Orkney as a place of quality education and skills cannot be underestimated.
A great deal of this has been made possible due to ERASMUS. So what is it?
Erasmus+, as it is today began in its current form in 2014. It provides a range of European Union (EU) funding streams that have existed since 2007, such as the Socrates Programme and the Lifelong Learning Programme.
It provides funding for education, training and sport, with a particular focus on youth work, but it also provides funding for activities aimed at all ages. The EU sees these programmes as a means of addressing socio-economic issues that Europe may face like unemployment and social cohesion. [House of Commons Library]
In 2014 Erasmus+ paid out €112million in the UK for research and by 2017 this had risen to €145million.
31,243 students came to the UK to pursue study and training due to ERASMUS+ in the 2016 tranche.
And it works both ways because thousands of students, at different levels of study and training have used ERASMUS+ to take up options in the EU countries: 10,790 in 2017.
ERASMUS+ has been one of the most effective programmes initiated by the EU.
The UK Government has promised to underwrite funding which had been agreed that was due to continue after Brexit and UK citizens are currently encouraged to continue to apply for funding under Erasmus+.
The next cycle of funding begins in 2021 and it is still actually unclear what the UK intends to do. This makes it incredibly difficult for students, in the UK or EU, and for those needing research funding to make future plans.
The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st of January 2020 and so much is still unclear. Whatever the UK Government eventually decides it will have a considerable impact upon Orkney’s currently vibrant university sector.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame