Covid recovery must take priority over EU Erasmus+ student exchange scheme – Scotsman comment

When it emerged the UK would not take part in the EU’s Erasmus+ student exchange scheme as the Brexit transition period ended, Kostis Giannidis spoke for many when he said the decision “breaks my heart”.

The Scottish and Welsh governments are looking at ways to take part in the EU's Erasmus+ student exchange scheme

Giannidis, president of the Erasmus Student Network, was one of more than ten million young people to study and train in another country over three decades of the scheme, attending Durham University.

While Boris Johnson had said that leaving the EU posed no threat to Erasmus+, in the end the UK government decided it was too expensive and a cheaper British replacement, the Turing Scheme, is being created.

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But now, the Scottish and Welsh governments are hoping their countries will be able to continue to participate in a move that some will see as pure politics and others as a welcome step to continue to broaden the horizons of the young generation.

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Scotland and Wales in joint stand on EU Erasmus student scheme

In a joint statement, Scotland's universities minister Richard Lochhead and his Welsh counterpart, Kirsty Williams, said Erasmus+ had “helped transform the lives of thousands of our students, schoolchildren, teachers, adult learners and young people, from all across the UK”. The Turing Scheme, in contrast, was described as a “lesser imitation of the real thing”.

In normal circumstances, the Scotsman would wholeheartedly support continued membership of Erasmus+.

It is worthwhile for the benefits it gives to students from Scotland and the students from other countries who come here to study and might decide it is a good place to make a life. With the Scots-born population declining, we need to attract migrants, particularly well-educated ones, for economic reasons but also cultural ones; we are only enriched by greater diversity.

Soft-power ties are also important. Most visitors to Scotland go away with a good impression and that can help in a myriad of ways, from encouraging tourists to helping forge new trade links.

However, as with all things, we must carefully consider whether continued Erasmus+ membership is affordable. And this question is even more important at a time when businesses are struggling to survive the Covid crisis and need government funds to stay afloat.

This has to be the priority and rejoining Erasmus+, as valuable as it is, may have to wait.

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