Switzerland has been suspended from full membership of the programme since 2014, after the country voted in favour of an anti-immigration initiative that contravened its free movement agreement with the EU.
A few months later, the Swiss government approved an interim solution, ringfencing 23 million francs in grants for Swiss students to allow them to continue with their exchange plans. As a ‘partner country' of the scheme, rather than a full member, it arranged a series of bilateral agreements with individual European universities under the new name Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP).
This temporary solution has been a success in terms of participation, but it offers more limited opportunities for students than full membership of the Erasmus+ scheme would.
Late last year Switzerland resolved its immigration issues with the EU, and Swiss scientists – also suspended from EU schemes after the 2014 referendum – have already regained their status in EU projects.
Now students and education groups are demanding the government resolve the Erasmus question too.
On Monday a petition signed by 10,000 people was lodged with the federal government, demanding that Switzerland resume its negotiations with the EU on the subject so that Swiss students can be reintegrated in the programme by 2018.
However it seems they will have to wait a little longer, since the government wants to extend its temporary solution until the end of 2020.
One stumbling block is money: Brussels is demanding Switzerland pay a higher contribution to the scheme's budget than the alpine country has already approved for its interim solution. As a result, the Federal Council feels it is unrealistic for those negotiations to be concluded before 2018, reported news agency ATS.
However in a statement the government's own education commission has said it is imperative that those negotiations restart immediately.
Though the commission supports the temporary solution, it should not continue long-term as that would risk “disadvantaging training institutions, the scientific community and the students involved,” it said.