The president of the European Commission has closed the door on separate Scottish participation in the bloc's flagship Erasmus+ education programme.

In a letter to MEP Terry Reintke, Ursula Von Der Leyen said that, as a "constituent nation" of the UK, Scotland could not associate independently with the scheme.

It comes after members of the European Parliament asked the Commission to explore whether Scotland and Wales could remain included after the UK Government decided to pull out.

Erasmus+ funds education, student exchanges, training, youth and sport across the continent, and has a budget of 14.7 billion euros (£12.8bn).

The UK Government is planning a replacement programme called the Turing Scheme which will be backed with over £100 million.

In her letter, Ms Von Der Leyen said: "The EU offered the United Kingdom full association to the Erasmus+ programme in exchange for the standard financial contribution from third countries participating in Union programmes.

"Following a year of constructive negotiations with the UK Government, the decision was made in London not to pursue UK association to Erasmus+. The Commission regrets this decision."

The letter also said the Commission was "aware" of the Scottish Government's statement on the UK decision.

It added that Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, had met with Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead, and noted he was "keen" to explore options for Scottish participation.

"However, as one constituent nation of the UK, association to Erasmus+ is not possible for Scotland, separately," the letter went on.

"The only possibility is for the UK to associate as a whole, or not at all."

HeraldScotland: Edinburgh University is among those which have benefitted from participation in Erasmus.Edinburgh University is among those which have benefitted from participation in Erasmus.

Her letter said the UK would be able to participate in Erasmus+ "to the extent possible for a non-associated third country". This will include programmes such as  the Jean Monnet Actions, as well as the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees.

"In addition, two large actions covering higher education students and Vocational Education (VET) learners from Erasmus Programme Countries (EU27 and associated third countries) will offer limited possibilities to undertake mobility in non-associated third countries, including the UK," it added.

"These actions will be in line with the European Education Area and the EU's broader geopolitical objectives when it comes to its international partnerships worldwide, but they certainly do not reach the level of cooperation of available for Erasmus programme countries."

The UK Government has said its own Turing scheme will "be backed by over £100 million, providing funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September 2021".

It also said its programme would "target students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which did not previously have many students benefiting from Erasmus+, making life-changing opportunities accessible to everyone across the country".

Ms Von Der Leyen's letter states that the Commission "remains open and ready to negotiate should the UK reconsider its position".

Ms Reintke, who is a Green MEP, tweeted in response: "This answer is not what we had hoped for.

"But: We will continue to explore how Scotland and Wales could stay in Erasmus+. Next step: Organise a debate on this in the European Parliament.

"Erasmus+ is a cornerstone in a peaceful continent– also beyond the EU."

READ MORE: Doubt over financial sustainability of universities

Alex Orr, Policy Adviser for the European Movement in Scotland, said: “We would urge the European Commission to reconsider its position, but noting admission to Erasmus for Scotland alone may not be possible, call on the UK Government to associate to the scheme as a third country, a position we are aware it previously rejected.  

“The loss of Erasmus, which brings different countries and nationalities together and generates such massive cultural and educational benefits, is a huge blow. 

“Erasmus allows many thousands of young people, no matter their background, to continue to improve their futures, their access to global opportunities, and their development as citizens of a connected world."