EU students were today assured they can continue to study in Scotland despite no commitment from the UK government that it will continue to participate in the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme.
Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead told students and staff at Aberdeen University - which has one of the largest European campus populations in Scotland - the government was "stepping up efforts" to ensure Scottish universities remain open to EU students.
The Erasmus+ scheme, the EU’s flagship cultural and educational project which has run for 30 years, will end when the transition period comes to a close at the end of this year.
An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would have mandated the government to continue to seek full membership of the programme after Brexit, was defeated last month, throwing the future of the educational partnership into doubt. However Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he will look at "successor schemes".
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Proportionally more Scots take part in Erasmus+ than from any other country in the UK, with more than 2,000 Scottish students enrolling each year. Between 2014 and 2018, 14,000 Scots used the EU scheme, securing over 90 million Euros in funding. And since the beginning of the current Erasmus+ programme in 2014 around 12,000 EU students have come to study in Scotland.
Aberdeen University enrolled 2,655 students from 33 countries through Erasmus+ at the start of the current academic year, and a total of 709 staff - 17 per cent of its workforce - also come from the EU.
Today Mr Lochhead told students that should the UK government continue to refuse to sign up to Erasmus+, the Scottish Government will seek to do so "unilaterally".
Non-EU members can "partner" with the scheme subject to criteria, but there are no current partners who are not sovereign states, or whose territory is not "recognised by international law".
Mr Lochhead said: “Scotland is an open and inclusive country. EU students will always be welcome here and today we are stepping up our efforts to ensure our universities are seen across Europe as open for business.
READ MORE: What is the future for Erasmus students after Brexit?
“Thousands of Scottish students, teachers and young people have benefited from the popular Erasmus+ scheme, while at the same time our campuses and country have been enriched by EU nationals choosing to live and study here.
“This much-cherished and respected learning, training and cultural programme is at serious risk – and we are clear that it must continue. Over the coming weeks we will make the case strongly to the UK Government that continued association with Erasmus+ is of the utmost importance.
“In the event the UK Government decides to abandon the programme, we will also be looking at the possibility of Scotland associating unilaterally.”