Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

Erasmus Plus Programme: Youth and Sport

by Lloyd on 30.01.18 in Uncategorised
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I beg to move, that this House has considered youth activities and sport within the Erasmus Plus programme. I applied for the debate, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs and former vice-president of the European youth forum, for two main reasons. The first is the big issue hanging over us in almost every decision we make in this place at the moment: Brexit. How will we continue to co-operate with EU programmes after departure day?
I beg to move, that this House has considered youth activities and sport within the Erasmus Plus programme. I applied for the debate, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs and former vice-president of the European youth forum, for two main reasons. The first is the big issue hanging over us in almost every decision we make in this place at the moment: Brexit. How will we continue to co-operate with EU programmes after departure day?

The Minister for Universities has stated that the Government intend to negotiate some sort of continued access with Erasmus Plus and its successor. However, the Government’s intentions remain unclear on the youth elements of the programme that are part of Erasmus now but may be separated post-2020 in the next EU multiannual financial framework, which is being negotiated.

I note that it will be much easier to continue co-operation in higher education—most exchanges there are bilateral in nature—than it will be in youth and sport, where exchange and co-operation are primarily based on multilateral partnerships, making the arrangements all the more complicated. I remain concerned that when people talk about Erasmus, they are generally speaking about the university sector. When I tried to secure this debate, I was asked multiple times whether the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was the correct Department to respond. The Universities Minister has given assurances about the Erasmus programme but not wider assurances about its youth and sport sections, and particularly how our policy on youth and sport will feed into an Erasmus successor programme. That is why I am here.

I will talk later about how the youth and sport programmes are far more diverse than some of the university parts of the Erasmus Plus programme. The continued participation of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and other harder-to-reach or economically-deprived communities in parts of those programmes is really important. We need to think about not just our continued participation in the Erasmus programme but, generally, how we will continue to co-operate with our European partners on youth policy and sport policy.

Erasmus has secured a place in people’s minds as a university programme—600,000 people from the UK have gone abroad to study in the past 30 years—but ​there are similar numbers in the youth programme. It is vital to highlight the importance of youth and sport in Erasmus Plus. What are the policy views of DCMS about how that programme should look? Additionally, how will our current domestic programmes intertwine and co-operate with a future Erasmus programme? How will the International Citizen Service and National Citizen Service work in harmony with any future European programmes? How will UK Sport’s international development through excellence and leadership in sport programme continue to work with the sport section of Erasmus Plus?

The sport part of the programme is a good example. More than 10,000 people have taken part in the youth and sport section alone in the past year, while the IDEALS programme has an average uptake of 46 young people. Those are different programmes, but the scale of Erasmus’s youth and sport section outweighs any of our domestic programmes. That is why it is so important that our involvement continues. The current programme runs from 2014 to 2020, so it is in its final half. We await the independent mid-term evaluation report, which was completed in August 2017 and is sitting on desks in the Commission in Brussels. We all want to see what the official report—rather than the drafts—will say.

I have spoken at length to several national agencies and to the evaluation team who wrote the report on EU youth and sport policy. What role is the UK playing to ensure that we lead those discussions? If we are to buy into Erasmus Plus and its successor programmes, we want to ensure that they meet our needs, so we need to roll our sleeves up and get involved in the nitty-gritty of the debate and discussions. If we are to remain in Erasmus, we must ensure that it is in line with our youth policy. That would be much easier to do if we had had the youth strategy that the Government promised before the election. I understand that there will now be a youth chapter in the civil society policy. It is important that we are clear about our policies so that we can influence our European colleagues.

From conversations with colleagues in Ukraine last night, I understand that the Ukrainian authorities tried to opt into only part of the Erasmus programme—interestingly, the youth and sport part, not the university part—but they were rebuffed by the Commission, who said that it is all-or-nothing; they could not start to take programmes apart. That makes it clear that if we took part, we would be in not just the university section, but the youth and sport section. It is, therefore, even more important that we inform the design of the youth section based on our policies.

What vision do the Minister and the Government have for the content? Erasmus Plus has policy themes based particularly around economic policy, because the current programme was designed in the wake of the economic crash to get young people back into economic activity. Issues of social inclusion and radicalisation have now come to the fore. How will those issues, which I assume the Government will want to tackle, be reflected in a new programme? What are the Government’s priorities?

Additionally, in the latest Commission proposal, it looks as though the European voluntary service for Europe and neighbouring countries—in a crude way, I guess it is our equivalent of ICS—will be taken out of Erasmus. The EVS has existed for 20 years, so it is not a ​new programme, and we have participated in it for all that time. It will be merged into a new European solidarity corps—or, as most of my European colleagues rather unfortunately pronounce it, “corpse”—and how that corps complements NCS and ICS will be really important. Do the Government intend to opt into the new European solidary corps? We have had reassurances about opting into the Erasmus programme, and the European solidarity corps will be a successor, but it will not be part of Erasmus. Do the Government intend to commit to continuing in all successor components of Erasmus Plus, or will we continue only with the core of Erasmus, with everything else still up for question?

Erasmus is the name of the programme we have at the moment, but it was not always thus. Before 2014, there was a separate youth programme, Youth in Action, and before that the EU Youth Programme. There were Comenius, Grundtvig and Leonardo—I could go on with the other European philosophers. Erasmus was chosen in conversations we had with the Commission. I was not in favour of it at the time; in fact, I argued heavily against it when I was in Brussels.

The idea was that everyone knew Erasmus, so we might as well try to make everything Erasmus. In my view, doing so just waters down the other bits of the programme that are not really known about, but that is the direction that the Commission went in. Now it looks as though the Commission is moving towards separating parts of those programmes back out into a solidarity corps, and it would be interesting to know the position of the UK Government and the Minister. Are we supportive of those plans to split out again? How are we having those discussions in Europe?

The higher education sector has a high success rate in achieving Erasmus funding; 90% plus of Erasmus funding is successful in that sector. In the youth sector, it is around the 30%-plus mark. I sat on the European programming committee in a previous life, and the evaluators often state that the youth programmes are just as well written, but they are written by volunteers. It is the same with the sports programme; we are often talking about voluntary sports clubs rather than big, professional HE institutions. How will our influence be brought to bear on the Commission and the discussions in the Council to ensure that the future programmes, and particularly the solidarity corps, are flexible, light-touch programmes to which voluntary groups and small organisations can apply?

One of the outcomes, as I understand it, of the mid-term evaluation is that smaller organisations have been pushed out by the bigger merger. There are other advantages to merging everything into one, and I do not particularly want to get into them all, but it is important to recognise that smaller organisations, which we want to encourage and foster, are at a disadvantage in an integrated programme. I hope that we will welcome the European Commission’s direction.

The only reasons we managed to secure a separate section for youth in the Erasmus programme were the heavy lobbying work from youth organisations, which I helped to co-ordinate, and detailed discussions with Commissioner Vassiliou, who was the commissioner at the time. I wonder whether the Minister has considered, in her discussions with youth organisations, the importance of including the voices of youth and youth organisations in the programme.​

Equally, it would be interesting to include the voices of stakeholders such as Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland colleagues. The matter is generally devolved, but we represent the whole UK in the discussions. I am aware that the Belgian authorities take their counterparts with them to Council meetings. The Belgian authorities have no problem with having all their regional Ministers sitting behind them. Are we considering something similar, particularly on these important devolved matters—on sports and youth—to ensure that those voices are included?

I will give some numbers quickly before I finish. I have asked several questions that I hope to hear back on. Erasmus, of course, is a good programme. Some 16,000 higher education students took part last year, and 10,000 youth and sports groups, but only 11% of the money is distributed to youth and sport programmes—1% for sport and 10% for youth. That surely shows the efficiency of the youth and sports programme. The cost per head of a participant in the youth part of the Erasmus programme is €900 or thereabouts. The cost of participating in the Erasmus higher education programme is €2,500 within Europe; if participants take the Erasmus option of going to a neighbouring non-EU country such as Norway or the Russian Federation, it is €5,000 per participant.

There is nothing wrong with investing in students who go into higher education, but the majority of students who take part in the Erasmus higher education programme are from more privileged backgrounds, by the nature of the fact that they have gone to university and then chosen to opt out. As I have mentioned, more than 50% of those on the youth programme come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It is important that we continue to opt in and have a voice. A stack of case studies is available on the websites of the British Council and the UK national agency about how the programme—particularly EVS—has turned young people’s lives around, and I implore hon. Members to look at them.

When I was chair of Woodcraft Folk, a national voluntary youth organisation, I applied for those grants and saw this at first hand. I remember a young person from County Durham who came to the programme with very anti-immigrant views. By the end of it, after doing exchanges and working with other young people from across Europe, his views were totally transformed because he was able to see the value of humanity in all of us. That is what I hope this Government will do, by continuing to engage in the programme and by giving a strong commitment that we will continue not only in Erasmus, but in the solidarity corps and the European Voluntary Service substitute.

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Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

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