MINISTERS in Scotland are under pressure to set up a scheme to replace the EU's Erasmus student exchange programme as Angus Robertson and Lorna Slater embark on a two day visit to Brussels.

The European Movement in Scotland say the Scottish Government’s decision to shelve plans to replace the scheme, as revealed by The Herald this month, is depriving young people of life-changing opportunities. 

Post Brexit, students in England, Scotland and Wales are barred from taking part in the EU's Erasmus+, the world's biggest student exchange programme, after the UK Government opted to leave the scheme and set up the successor Turing programme.

Students at universities in Northern Ireland can continue to take part in Erasmus.

Ministers in London insist Turing is offering “tremendous global opportunities”. The Scottish and Welsh Governments asked the EU whether they could continue to be part of the programme, but the European Commission's president Ursula von der Leyen turned their requests down.

However, while the Erasmus programme pays tuition fees for UK students abroad and overseas students studying in the UK, Turing does not cover tuition fees which can be up to £50,000. It is up to the host institution to waive the fees or not.

Following Ms von der Leyen's decision the two devolved nations pledged to develop and implement programmes to replace Erasmus.

The Welsh Government have since put their £65m scheme in place but the Scottish Government have delayed their own indefinitely.

The European Movement in Scotland say this delay is damaging for the thousands of young people who wish to enhance their education and training by studying in Europe with those from disadvantaged backgrounds missing out most.

Chair of the European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) Mark Lazarowicz said: "The loss of Erasmus+ is an act of cultural vandalism and we must do everything to restore the huge opportunities it gives to students, apprentices and others."

An EMiS spokesman added: "EMiS urges Scottish cabinet secretary Angus Robertson and minister Lorna Slater to press the case for Scotland and its passionately pro-European young people to be allowed to rejoin the Erasmus-Plus scheme on a par with non-EU countries such as Norway – and Syria – during their current face-to-face talks with EU leaders and officials in Brussels.

"Scotland voted decisively to remain within the EU six years ago and its young people, universities, further education colleges, schools and workplaces are excluded from Erasmus-Plus entirely against their will. They deserve their place at the heart of Europe."

Liam McArthur, the Lib Dem MSP said: "Erasmus was a fantastic initiative which broke down barriers for Scottish students to live, study and work around the world. It was a needless casualty of Brexit.

"Wales understood this and already have a scheme up and running. Despite this offering a blueprint, SNP/Green Ministers have decided to shelve their promised Scottish exchange programme indefinitely.

“Actions speak louder than photo ops. It’s typical that Angus Robertson and Lorna Slater have travelled to Brussels to bang the drum for independence but haven’t bothered to do the hard work at home on Erasmus. This is an insult to thousands of young Scots who continue to lose out on opportunities of a lifetime."

The First Minister's Programme for Government, published in September 2021, states an alternative Erasmus programme will aim to “support the international mobility of staff and learners”.

The document also says ministers at Holyrood will continue pushing for access to Erasmus+.  A statement by the Scottish Government, released yesterday,  said Mr Robertson will "cement Scotland’s strong and close ties with the EU" when he visits Brussels today and tomorrow.

However, it did not mention Erasmus or building closer links in education. It also did not mention that Ms Slater, who is minister for the circular economy, would also be travelling to Brussels, though she was photographed attending events with the Cabinet Secretary in the Belgium capital this morning.

The statement said the visit coincides with EU Green Week, adding that Mr Robertson "will stress shared priorities on climate goals and biodiversity loss" during meetings with MEPS, its Friends of Scotland Group and senior Brussels-based diplomats.

Speaking ahead of the two-day visit, Mr Robertson said: “Last November, Scotland was proud to host leaders from across the world at the COP26 climate change summit.

"We are committed to becoming a net zero nation by 2045, and will continue to work closely with our European neighbours, friends and counterparts to deliver on our shared climate goals.

“Like many European countries, Scotland’s population has been shaped by migration. EU citizens have enriched communities in every local authority, and in recent decades free movement within the EU has helped reverse population decline in Scotland.

“European markets dominate our international trade. Indeed, for more than 45 years, individuals, businesses and communities across Scotland experienced the social, economic and cultural benefits of membership of the EU.

"Ensuring the closest possible relationship with the EU is therefore fundamental to Scotland’s future, which is why we will continue to foster ever close ties with our EU partners.

“The Scottish Government’s aim is to re-join the EU as an independent country as soon as possible."

The statement said another key message will be the Scottish Government’s opposition to the UK Government’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Robertson added: “We are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, so for the UK Government to threaten to breach an international treaty which could spark a disastrous trade war is folly in the extreme.

“Despite numerous requests, the UK Government has shown no willingness to engage on key issues for Scotland, such as trade and border control. We continue to press the UK Government to pull back, and focus instead on dialogue with our EU partners and finding a durable, agreed solution to the NI Protocol.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity is undertaking a series of engagements in Brussels with senior politicians, environmental groups, and others as part of EU Green Week to advance our shared interests in tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

"This includes a keynote address at Scotland House, encouraging subnational governments, cities and local authorities to sign the Edinburgh Declaration on biodiversity.

"Alongside her own program of events, the Minister will attend meetings alongside the External Affairs Secretary where there is a shared portfolio interest.”