Exclusive: Gavin Williamson insists he wants more foreign students to come to Britain
The Government is extending an exchange scheme to help disadvantaged pupils travel abroad after suffering a backlash over the Erasmus programme, i can reveal.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will announce that the international school exchange programme, which provides money for schools in England to take their pupils abroad, will continue for another year and will also apply to children in Years 5 and 6 rather than just senior school pupils, as it does currently.
The news comes after the Conservatives were accused of closing off opportunities for young people to study abroad, by refusing to guarantee that Britain will continue to participate in Erasmus after Brexit. The EU-led Erasmus programme is designed to facilitate student exchanges within Europe.
Speaking at a conference in London, Mr Williamson will insist that he still wants European students to come to the UK and vice versa.
Focus on technical education
He is expected to say: “Just over a week from now, the UK will leave the EU. This is the perfect opportunity to march forward and be the global leader in educating children, young people and adults. Make no mistake, I want the UK to be the best place in the world to educate your child and make the most of people’s talents.
“As we step out into the world, our doors are open and our ambitions are bold. We will continue to learn from those countries excelling in areas like maths and will share with others the lessons we have learned. We will place a bigger focus on further and technical education and will continue to welcome hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest international students to our world-class universities.”
The international school exchange programme, which is run by the British Council and Department for Education, will continue for at least another year at a cost of £2.5m. It provides schools which have a lot of under-privileged pupils with grants of up to £15,000 to enable them to visit twinned schools in other countries.
Fears over EU exchanges
Critics of the Government insisted the move would not make up for the potential loss of Erasmus. Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran told i: “The Prime Minister cannot be allowed to pull the wool over our eyes. This announcement falls a long way short. Young people deserve a clear, unambiguous commitment to ensure the UK stays in Erasmus.”
Ministers have said they will seek to stay in Erasmus after Brexit, but defeated an attempt to write the ambition into law, arguing it would tie the UK’s hands during trade negotiations with the EU.
Education exports have been a growth industry for the UK which is worth £21.4bn to the economy, according to official statistics. In the latest academic year there were 486,000 international students at British universities.
Some experts have warned Brexit may make it harder to attract students both from the EU and from other parts of the world. The Government is launching a new visa from next year which allows foreign graduates to work in Britain after completing their course at a UK university.