Britain’s new ambassador to France, Menna Rawlings, is set to rebuild decades of cooperation after Brexit suddenly brought everything to a halt. She was in Strasbourg on Monday.
The United Kingdom’s ambassador to France since late August, Menna Rawlings has a lot to do to prevent relations between the two nations from turning back into a bitter rivalry. In addition to the issue of migration and the thorny issue of fisheries, the UK noted that since Brexit, French students have found it more difficult to come to Oxford, Cambridge or Cardiff to study. Passing through Strasbourg on Monday, December 6th, Menna Rawlings detailed her strategy to relaunch academic exchanges between the two countries.
Rue89 Strasbourg: French and Alsatian students in particular appreciated being able to go to London for a few months to continue part of their studies there. As the UK no longer participates in the European Erasmus programme, this is no longer possible. What are you going to do to fix it?
Menna Rawlings: The UK has a long university tradition, with centers of excellence such as Oxford or Cambridge, and excellent universities in Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff… We are in the process of creating the administrative and legal tools to replace Erasmus. . And we encourage universities, like Strasbourg, to establish protocols with the British universities that interest them. It is up to regions, cities and universities to create these direct links, without waiting for international agreements that will inevitably take a long time to establish. That’s why I committed to visiting every region of France during my first year as ambassador.
Asking universities to fend for themselves is likely to produce a complex set of agreements for students to unravel, won’t it?
I do not think like that. On the one hand, it is not necessary for a French student to apply for a visa to study in the UK for less than six months. And at the embassy, we make sure to make the procedures as simple as possible for longer periods. On the other hand, we created a national program that allowed 3,000 British students to study in France in 2021. We hope that a similar program will be established in France soon, although we are aware that now is not the time to put such a program on the diplomatic agenda.
In the end, aren’t you rebuilding, brick by brick, the agreements that prevailed before Brexit?
It’s not about looking back. Brexit is a reality now, the British people voted, the government did it, now we must build the future. My job today is to detect which French entities could or would like to develop closer ties with the UK. So I will return shortly to the University of Strasbourg to discuss with President Deneken the UK’s association with the European Horizon programme, which oversees international exchanges at the level of professors and researchers.