THE extent to which Scottish students face losing out if Erasmus is scrapped due to Brexit can be revealed, with new figures showing nearly one in five UK participants in the student exchange programme are from north of the Border.

Latest statistics show 17 per cent of participants from the UK who studied abroad in 2014 through the scheme were from Scotland.

Participants from England made up 73 per cent of the total, while the figure for Wales was five per cent and for Northern Ireland three per cent.

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The future of the Erasmus programme in Scotland is under threat with fears the UK’s participation could end once it leaves the EU. The UK Government has pledged that those currently in the scheme or applying for it next year will be unaffected, but says future access will be decided in discussions with the EU.

Last week the Sunday Herald revealed the extent of concern over how Scotland’s universities will be devastated by Brexit – with warnings the nation’s “world-class” reputation is at risk.

Higher education institutions fear there could be an “exodus” of skilled academics if the uncertainty over the future of EU nationals is not resolved soon, resulting in Scotland becoming “intellectually and culturally impoverished”.

MP Ian Murray, Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesman, who obtained the figures, said any limit imposed on Scottish participation in Erasmus because of Brexit would be “absolutely unacceptable”.

He said: “We simply cannot afford to trade away the opportunities available to our young people.

“The Government must provide concrete guarantees that Scottish students will be able to continue participating in the Erasmus programme both now and in the future.”

The British Council statistics for 2012/13 show that 14 per cent of all UK students participating in the Erasmus scheme came from Scotland, a total of 1,441.

The following year – when the programme became known as Erasmus+ – 1,558 students from Scotland participated, making up 17 per cent of the UK total.

Vonnie Sandlan, president of National Union of Students Scotland, said it would be a “great loss” if Brexit created new and unnecessary barriers both to Scots wanting to study abroad, and EU students wanting to study in Scotland.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further and Higher Education, said if the UK was to withdraw completely from Erasmus it would reduce opportunities for students to enhance their academic results, employability and future career mobility.

She added: “Scotland’s preference is to continue full participation in Erasmus+ for its broad educational, cultural and economic benefits for both Scottish students and European students coming to study in Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “The UK’s future access to the Erasmus+ programme will be determined as a part of wider discussions with the EU.

“More broadly, existing UK students studying in the EU, and those looking to start in the next academic year, will continue to be subject to current arrangements.?”

CASE STUDY

Ronnie Woodward, 21, is in his fourth year at Strathclyde University studying aero-mechanical engineering. Last year he spent six months at Luleå University in Sweden thanks to the Erasmus programme.

He said: “Strathclyde University has a great Erasmus team who help out when applying to study abroad.

“Back in second year we had meetings and they discussed Erasmus and international exchanges, which is how I knew to apply.

“It was a really great experience and I am so glad I did it.

“From a social perspective, I have made so many friends in international countries – just two weeks ago my French mates came to visit me, I have some Spanish friends and German, and obviously a couple of Swedish friends as well.

“In terms of studying, it’s good to experience a different university and a different style of teaching.

“I visited all of Scandinavia as well. One of my favourite memories is hiring a car and doing a big road trip over to Norway – we camped out on an Arctic peninsula for a while.

“It was the first time I had been to Scandinavia and now I have witnessed so much of it I have an understanding of what their culture and lifestyle is like.”

He added: “If Erasmus stopped in the UK I would be shocked. It is a really great experience and really valuable to everyone who does it.

“It has not been decided yet, so hopefully the UK Government will continue to pay into the Erasmus fund and be allowed to participate.

“I would recommend it to anyone – it is the best thing you can do at university.”