“Switzerland is on a slippery slope of isolating its students and academics from the outside world,” Elizabeth Gehrke, vice-chairwoman of the European Students’ Union (ESU), said in a statement issued on Thursday.
“This could have devastating effects that would be difficult to reverse.”
One of the chief concerns is that educational and research exchanges between the EU and the Swiss may be scrapped if bilateral agreements between the two sides are nullified.
The Swiss voted on February 9th to abolish the freedom of movement labour agreement in favour of a system of quotas.
But a so-called guillotine clause means that the rejection of this bilateral deal could terminate other agreements, including one for the Erasmus student exchange programme, the Brussels-based ESU said.
The European student organization, representing student unions from 39 European countries, joined the national union of students in Switzerland (VSS) in demanding that any cap on mobility should exclude students.
Around 2,600 Swiss students benefitted from the Erasmus (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) programme in 2011-12, gaining valuable international experience, the groups said.
Switzerland, meanwhile, hosted close to 2,900 foreign students who were exposed to the Swiss educational system.
The European Union has approved a €14.7-billion budget for the Erasmus programme from 2014-2020, including exchanges for education, training, youth and sport.
“Mobility platforms, such as the one that Switzerland has in place with the European Union, contribute to the development of higher education institutions,” the student organizations said in a joint statement.
“It would affect all universities in Europe should those agreements be terminated and place restrictions on the Swiss education system.”
Meanwhile, Swiss universities are concerned that they risk losing hundreds of millions in euros for research from EU funding programmes.
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Lausanne's Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), alone faces being deprived of 80 to 100 million francs in support, about a third of its spending on research programs.
"If by a great misfortune we were to be excluded (from EU funding) we would have to find very onerous ways to compensate," Patrick Aebischer, EPFL president told the RTS state broadcaster earlier this week.
"it would be very problematic for us."