Erasmus: could Scotland stay in EU study abroad scheme - and UK’s new Turing programme explained

Holyrood ministers are exploring options for keeping the European scheme open after Brexit brings an end to Scotland’s involvement

The Scottish Government is hoping to keep the country involved with the EU’s Erasmus scheme.

Ministers have held talks with the European Commission about allowing Scotland’s students to still participate in the successful study abroad programme despite Brexit.

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Scotland, England and Wales can no longer participate in Erasmus following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

Ministers have held talks with the European Commission about keeping Erasmus open to Scotland’s students (Getty Images)

It is set to be replaced by the UK’s new study abroad programme, the Turing Scheme.

So, could Scotland stay involved with Erasmus - and what is the Turing Scheme?

Here’s everything you need to know.

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What is Erasmus?

Before the Brexit transition period ended, students in the UK were able to study abroad in EU countries thanks to the Erasmus programme.

It’s an EU-funded scheme that organises student exchanges to allow them to gain new experiences by studying part of their degree in a foreign country.

Exchanges usually take place in the second or third year of a course, and can last up to a year.

Universities that participate in the programme partner with other institutions to offer exchange placements.

Erasmus students don’t need to pay fees for their international studies, and there are also grants to help with living costs.

Even though the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, the Brexit transition period continued to the end of the year and students were still able to participate in Erasmus.

Now, students in Scotland, England and Wales no longer have the opportunity to study abroad as part of the scheme.

Northern Ireland’s involvement in the scheme continues due to an arrangement with the Irish Government.

Why did the UK withdraw from Erasmus?

The Scottish and Welsh governments wanted to continue full participation in the study abroad scheme after Brexit.

Boris Johnson assured MPs in January 2020 that Brexit would not affect the UK’s involvement in Erasmus.

He said: “There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners.”

However, as a Brexit deal was negotiated with the EU, the UK Government decided that the programme was too expensive and withdrew.

On the U-turn, a Department for Education spokesperson said: "The UK decided to not participate in the next Erasmus+ programme as it was not in the interest of UK taxpayers and our net contribution would have been around £2bn over the programme.”

Could Scotland stay in the scheme?

Holyrood ministers have held “productive talks” with the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, to explore ways for Scotland to continue to participate in Erasmus.

Last week, more than 140 members of the European Parliament wrote to European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, asking her to look at options to allow both Scotland and Wales to stay in the scheme.

More than 2,000 students and staff from Scotland use the exchange programme each year.

Scotland’s Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead, said: "I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel.

“We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximise Scotland's continued engagement with the programme.

"I have also spoken with my Welsh government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact."

Both Mr Lochhead and Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams called the UK Government’s decision not to continue with the programme “deeply disappointing”.

In a joint statement, 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."

What is the new Turing Scheme?

In December 2020, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be creating a similar replacement for the Erasmus scheme.

He said the new programme, called the Turing Scheme after British scientist Alan Turing, would include countries outside Europe.

The Prime Minister also said the programme, due to begin in September 2021, would be better value for money for UK taxpayers.

There are also plans to target students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the new scheme.

Announcing the Turing Scheme, Mr Johnson said: "The new global Turing Scheme is designed to provide thousands of students across all of the UK the opportunity to study and work abroad, beyond EU countries, and will include additional support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"We will continue to work with the sector and devolved administrations to deliver the programme, backed by over £100m, ensuring students from all backgrounds benefit from the opportunity to learn across the world."

But the Scottish and Welsh governments have criticised the Turing Scheme for being too limited, saying it was a “lesser imitation of the real thing”.