What has happened to the Scottish Student Exchange Programme?

One of the benefits of Scotland being a member of the EU was the ERASMUS+ scheme. This was a student exchange programme that provided funding for education, training and sport, with a particular focus on youth work.

The Tory UK Government pulled us out of Erasmus+ and last year both the Welsh and Scottish Governments decided to explore how both countries could continue to enjoy the benefits offered by Erasmus+.

The UK instead proposed The Turing Scheme, funded at £105 million for one year. It pales in comparison  to Erasmus+, which has now had its budget for the next seven years increased to €26.2 billion by the EU.

Early this year Wales’ Education Minister unveiled a new international exchange programme for Wales, Taith, to replace the Erasmus+ programme. The aim is for 15,000 students and staff from Wales to travel overseas, and for 10,000 in turn to work or study in Wales. The five-year programme will run until 2026 with Welsh Government funding of up to £65 million to “offer life-changing opportunities to travel and learn for all learners and staff in every part of Wales.” It covers higher education, adult education, further and vocational education, and schools, as well as youth work.

Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem is concerned that no such scheme is underway yet in Scotland. He said ” progress towards delivery has been slow and now seems to have been shelved indefinitely.”

Liam McArthur continued:

“Orkney has benefited from Erasmus in the past and is well placed to do so in the future.  As home to campuses for three internationally renowned universities, our islands have been highly successful in attracting students and staff from all around the world.  Likewise, many young Orcadians have taken full advantage of the opportunity to travel and study abroad.”

A research paper, The Brexit vote, 5 years on – what do we know so far?, published by the Scottish Government in June 2021, stated:

“With the UK Government deciding not to associate to Erasmus+, the number of international exchange students is likely to decrease as well. According to HESA figures, in 2018/19 alone, 2,935 Erasmus+ students attended Scottish Universities, compared to 2,755 in 2019/20. Losing these students will not only impact financially on Scottish institutions, it will also impoverish the lives of many individuals and Scotland as a whole – our institutions thrive thanks to their diverse, international student bodies.

The UK Government’s decision to discontinue Erasmus participation will of course also be acutely felt by young Scots. For them, Brexit means a sudden and unwelcome end to a life-enhancing opportunity.

In response to Liam McArthur’s concerns about the no show Scottish student exchange programme, Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training in the Scottish Government said:

“Currently, Scottish Government have no confirmed timetable for a consultation process for the proposed Scottish Education Exchange programme. However, the Scottish Government have had and continue to have discussions with stakeholders in higher and further education, schools, community learning and development, youth and sports to listen to their views, needs, priorities and requirements for a Scottish Education Exchange Programme and on what would work best for learners an staff across the board.”

In A Fairer, Greener Scotland: Programme for Government 2021-22 , the Scottish Government’s plans for the year ahead it says:

“The UK’s exit from the EU risks damage to Scotland’s international standing, and reduces opportunities for Scottish students to travel and study in Europe. We will develop a new strategy for international education, to promote Scotland’s education offer globally, increase the number of international students, and maintain our links with the EU. We will also develop a Scottish Education Exchange Programme to support the international mobility of staff and learners, and work to re‑secure Scotland’s access to the Erasmus + Programme.

But with no timetable on this the Scottish replacement for ERASMUS+ is nowhere nearer happening than it was two years ago.

Fiona Grahame

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