THOUSANDS of Welsh students have been placed on the country's replacement for the EU's Erasmus exchange scheme, while the Scottish equivalent programme is yet to get underway.

Freedom of information requests received by the Scottish Lib Dems said there were 5,698 exchange opportunities lined up with Wales' Taith programme from September 2022.

However, no exchanges have been arranged through the proposed new Scottish scheme with a Scottish Government spokesman saying discussions around funding the programme and the consultation process on the proposed programme are still ongoing.

Liberal Democrats have accused Scottish ministers of falling behind their Welsh counterparts in replacing the Erasmus student exchange programme.

Willie Rennie, the party's education spokesman, said the Scottish Government has "sat on its hands" since announcing plans for a new scheme ahead of the Holyrood election last year.
The EU had offered the UK to remain in the Erasmus scheme post Brexit, but former Prime Minister Boris Johnson opted not to continue to take part in the arrangement and instead set up the alternative Turing Scheme. 

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the UK Government “decided not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme” after the two sides were unable to agree on the cost of Britain’s continued membership.

Universities in Northern Ireland continue to remain members of the programme. Both the Scottish and Welsh governments and hoped for separate membership saying the Turing scheme was inadequate.

While the Erasmus programme paid 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.

However, the requests for continued Scottish and Welsh membership were turned down by the European Commission's President Ursula van der Leyen.

Welsh ministers then went on to launch the five year Taith learning exchange programme, with £65 million in funding.

Mr Rennie said: "The Erasmus programme is a fantastic initiative that helped us forge relationships with our European friends and opened up the world for Scottish universities and students.

"While Liberal Democrats in government in Wales sought to ensure students and academics would not miss out, the Scottish Government have sat on their hands.

"These freedom of information requests show the level of disinterest from ministers."

He continued: "It is just another example of the SNP cynically exploiting pro-European sentiment for votes but refusing to actually do any of the hard work or put their money where their mouths are.

"If the SNP are serious about boosting the Scottish economy and delivering opportunities for a generation of students they should get to work and establish a two-way programme from next September, backed by a system of grant guarantees to ensure it is accessible to all. There's no good reason to delay."

Fears were raised by the Lib Dems in May that the proposed Scottish alternative to the Turing scheme had been shelved indefinitely after ministers admitted there was no timetable for consulting on it.

Ministers in London have insisted Turing is offering “tremendous global opportunities”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's Programme for Government, published in September 2021, states the Scottish successor to Erasmus 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+.  

Higher education minister Jamie Hepburn said in a written answer earlier this year that there was no “confirmed” timetable for a consultation process.

Minister for Higher and Further Education Jamie Hepburn said: “The UK Government’s misguided decision not to associate to Erasmus+ has resulted in support for our most deprived communities to be cut and opportunities for all our learners reduced.

“An independent Scotland could see the country’s learners and institutions benefit from full participation in Erasmus+ once again as we seek to rejoin the European Union.

“In recognition of the importance of educational mobility, we are developing a bespoke Scottish Education Exchange Programme.

"We are engaging with stakeholders in higher and further education, schools, community learning and development, youth and sports and listening to their views, priorities and requirements for a Scottish Education Exchange Programme.”