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Bid to rejoin scheme

Scots and Welsh ministers in joint call to retain Erasmus

Richard Lochhead

Richard Lochhead: ‘deeply disappointing’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Scottish and Welsh government ministers have joined forces to explore how both countries can remain part the EU’s Erasmus scheme enabling students to study overseas. 

They opposed the UK Government’s decision to leave the student exchange programme following Brexit and are keen to make a joint representation to European officials to seek a way back in.

Mariya Gabriel, the European commissioner for education in Brussels, has already had talks with Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s higher education minister, to discuss potential collaboration on the scheme.

It came as 150 MEPs wrote to Ms Gabriel and Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, asking if there was a way to extend Erasmus to Scotland and Wales.

The letter was organised by German Greens deputy Terry Reintke, who spent a year in Edinburgh on an Erasmus exchange.


During the Brexit talks Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was no threat to Erasmus. However, the UK negotiators failed to agree a deal with the EU, claiming Erasmus was too expensive and too focused on university students.

It was announced that the UK would replace it with a new scheme named after mathematician Alan Turing that will be more global.

Scottish ministers say this scheme is inferior, with a substantially lower budget and is not as flexible.

In a statement today, the Scottish and Welsh governments claimed that withdrawal “will reduce opportunities for all learners and cut support for the most deprived communities”, a claim disputed by the UK government.

The SNP’s further and higher education minister Richard Lochhead and Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams described the replacement as “a lesser imitation of the real thing”.

They said: “The Scottish and Welsh Governments have always been united in our view that participation in Erasmus+ is in the best interests for the whole of the UK. 

“The UK Government’s decision not to associate to the programme is therefore deeply disappointing: a decision that will see support for our most deprived communities cut, and opportunities for all our learners reduced.

Students have sought the chance to study abroad

“When taken together, more Erasmus+ funding is set aside for further education, schools, adult education and youth groups than for universities. 

“Participating in an Erasmus+ exchange has proven to increase people’s self-confidence, cultural awareness, second-language learning ability, and employability. 

“What’s more, these benefits are most pronounced for participants coming from the UK’s most deprived areas, and those furthest removed from traditional education.”

UK ministers deny these claims, stating that Turing will be much more inclusive than Erasmus which has been criticised by outside agencies for being “elitist”.

Charlie Cadywould, a researcher at the international think tank Policy Network in March 2017, noted that Erasmus “has a real problem reaching people from deprived backgrounds, ethnic minorities, and those who don’t go to university.

“The scheme has been expanded to include a vocational element, but it represents a minuscule portion of the Erasmus programme, which is still dominated by university students,” he said in a paper published on a London School of Economics website.

Mr Cadywould, now a senior policy adviser to the UK government, said that of those Brits who participated in Erasmus to study in 2015, 11,981 (86%) were enrolled in higher education, compared to 1,943 (14%) participating in vocational education or training.

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