The Welsh Government has announced a new international learning exchange programme, following the UK Government’s decision to withdraw from the popular Erasmus+ scheme.
The scheme will enable learners and staff, both from Wales and those who come to study or work in Wales, to continue to benefit from international exchanges in a similar way to the opportunities that flowed from Erasmus+, not just in Europe but also further afield.
The new scheme – which will run from 2022 to 2026 – will be supported by an investment of £65m from the Welsh Government.
The Programme will provide funding to enable students, staff and learners across universities, Further Education and Vocational Education and Training, Adult Education, youth work settings and schools to undertake a period of structured learning or work experience overseas, as well as enabling strategic partnerships.
A fundamental principle of the programme will be reciprocity. Where necessary, the programme will fund costs related to the inward mobility of learners, teachers and young people from partner organisations abroad. This will enable existing partnerships which have been built up under Erasmus + to continue and help to create new ones, raising Wales’ international profile as well as offering opportunities to those who benefit directly.
The scheme aims to enable 15,000 participants from Wales to go on overseas mobility exchanges over the first four years, with 10,000 participants coming to study or work in Wales.
Cardiff University has agreed to take on the detailed development of the programme over the next 12 months, working with an advisory board of stakeholders from across the education and youth sectors, with funded activities getting underway in 2022/3.
While Welsh institutions will be able to participate in the UK Government’s Turing Scheme in 2021/2, they will also continue to benefit from Erasmus+ exchanges deferred from last year due to the pandemic. The new programme will then fill the gaps Turing leaves, including, crucially, the commitment to long-term funding, the retention of the principle of two-way exchanges and the inclusion of youth work.
Kirsty Williams, the Education Minister, said: “We have been clear that international exchange programmes, which bring so many benefits to participants, as well as their education providers and wider community, should build on the excellent opportunities that the Erasmus+ programme offered.
“I am therefore delighted to announce today that the Welsh Government is investing in our future generations by launching an International Learning Exchange Programme for Wales.
“Our students and staff are vital ambassadors for us overseas, promoting the message that Wales is an inviting destination for students and partners across the world, and their education and cultural awareness are improved in many ways as a result of spending time abroad – just as our education providers are enriched by students and staff visiting Wales to study and teach.
“By investing in this programme now, we are investing in a strong, international and prosperous future for all young people in Wales.
“The main beneficiaries of the new scheme will be young people in upper secondary, for whom the challenges of learning from home over the last year have been particularly profound. We owe it to this next generation of students and learners to have the same opportunities previous years had.”
Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, said: “Spending time studying, volunteering or on work placements abroad broadens horizons, expands key skills and brings benefits to communities and organisations here in Wales. We are determined to ensure that young people across our country benefit from these opportunities.
“This is a down payment on our young people’s futures, offering opportunities to all, from all backgrounds. Securing these opportunities is particularly important in the context of the difficulties experienced by young people and learners across Wales as a result of the pandemic.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, the Welsh Government is committed to ensuring Wales remains an outward-looking nation, which welcomes those who come to study or work here and embraces partnerships across Europe and the world.”
Professor Colin Riordan, the President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, which has taken on the challenge of developing and delivering the programme, said: “Here at Cardiff University, we see first-hand how international experiences broaden our students’ horizons and open up a world of opportunities for their futures once they leave us. This is why we enable all of our students to study a language, for free, alongside their studies, and encourage them to volunteer, work or study abroad via our Global Opportunities Centre.
“We are delighted to be entrusted with hosting and co-developing the new International Learning Exchange programme which secures the opportunity for global experiences for the next generation of students, across a wide range of learning settings. We are sure that the scheme will be of huge benefit both for the learners and for raising the global profile of Wales as a connected, open and inviting country.”
Colegau Cymru Chair Guy Lacey said: “We are pleased to welcome today’s Welsh Government announcement. The value of international exchange programmes has long been known in the FE sector, providing opportunities to broaden the horizons of its participants which in turn gives a positive impact on individuals, colleges and the wider community. This assurance will also allow us to maintain and build on our relationships with overseas partners.”
Professor Iwan Davies, Vice-Chancellor of Bangor University and Chair of Global Wales. “An outward-looking and competitive nation requires a skilled workforce with a global outlook. Providing opportunities for students to be internationally mobile through study or work is crucial to this, and we welcome the expanded opportunities that the new International Learning Exchange programme offers to both students and staff.
“We also welcome the ongoing support for the Global Wales Programme – an initiative which builds fruitful partnerships around the globe, capitalising on the strengths of our universities and supporting Wales to define its role on the world stage.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, this support will be crucial in enabling us to continue to build on relationships with our global partners, promoting Wales as an open and welcoming destination for students and researchers alike.”
Professor Julie Lydon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Wales and Chair of Universities Wales, said: “We welcome today’s announcement of a bold new international learning exchange programme for Wales.
“Research shows that students who spend some time abroad working, studying or volunteering achieve better degrees and get better jobs, and that the benefits are even greater for participants from the least advantaged backgrounds.
“This opportunity to increase student and researcher mobility will be of huge benefit, not only to the individuals concerned but to our universities and campuses, and the country as a whole.
“The reciprocal nature of the new scheme will provide key benefits for Wales. International students, staff and researchers play an invaluable role in diversifying and internationalising our campuses and communities at a time when retaining an international outlook is more important than ever.”