The Swiss cabinet wants to extend an interim solution for international student exchanges by two years when it expires at the end of 2017. But it has not ruled out eventual readmission to Erasmus+, the European Union’s student exchange scheme, from 2021.
The interim solution for Erasmus+external link became necessary after Brussels suspended negotiations with Switzerland in response to Swiss voters approving in 2014 a proposal to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens.
On Thursday, the cabinet said Switzerland would continue to bear the cost and organisational burden of participating in the ad hoc scheme. It asked parliament for CHF114.5 million ($115 million) to cover the 2018-2020 period.
The latest decision does not, however, mean rejoining Erasmus+ is off the table, the cabinet said. It wants to continue talks with the European Commission looking into being part of the successor programme to Erasmus+, which runs until 2020.
“Promoting international mobility in further education is an important element of the government’s long-term education policy. For more than 20 years the government has based its funding policy predominantly on the European education programme,” the government said in a statement on Thursday.
When Erasmus was launched in 1987, some 3,000 students from 11 countries took part. Five years later Switzerland participated in Erasmus for the first time, with 350 students.
In total around 30,000 Swiss students have lived abroad under Erasmus with all the academic, career and personal development benefits entailed.
Last month the Swiss Students’ Association demanded the government start immediate negotiations to rejoin Erasmus+ with the aim of full membership. Students were afraid that not being in Erasmus+ would mean losing out academically, it said.
On Thursday the National Youth Council of Switzerland announced that it, along with several other youth and student organisations, had launched a petition on the issue of rejoining Erasmus+. The aim is to hand it in during parliament’s summer session.
Some foreign universities or academic institutions limit access to Swiss students – or flat-out reject them – for not being in Erasmus+. The University of Cambridge, regularly rated the top university in Europe, does not recognise the Swiss interim solution and has not accepted Swiss students since 2014.
On Thursday, the leftwing Social Democratic Party said permanent exclusion from Erasmus+ was “unacceptable” and that the government’s interim solution would not work in the long term.
“Switzerland could quickly become a member of Erasmus+ again, but the cabinet lacks the political will,” said Social Democrat Matthias Aebischer, criticising the cabinet for using cost as an excuse.
He said Switzerland must be a full member of Erasmus for 2021-2017 at the latest. “We can’t allow penny-pinching to ruin the chances of our younger generation.”