A LABOUR government may take Scotland and the UK back into the EU’s Erasmus programme, according to a member of the party’s shadow cabinet.

Ian Murray, the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, raised the possibility of rejoining the education exchange programme, which is open to non-EU members, if his party wins the next General Election, during an interview with The Herald on Sunday.

“If joining the Erasmus scheme is in the national interest it would certainly be something that is on the table,” he said when asked if Labour would seek to take the UK back into the programme.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, gave Boris Johnson the option of remaining in Erasmus during the Brexit negotiations. 

But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator at the time, 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.

Instead, the former prime minister launched the replacement Turing programme which has since been criticised by universities as not providing as many benefits.
Erasmus operates as an exchange scheme whereas Turing is a study abroad scheme.

Erasmus sees universities, and other partners, exchange students and staff with another institution with no additional costs to the student with their time abroad recognised by their home university.

Turing sees the student go abroad to study but there’s no reciprocity. So no students from abroad come back to Scotland under the scheme.

Erasmus paid tuition fees for UK students abroad and EU students studying in the UK, making it more accessible for students from disadvantaged groups to take part in the programme. In contrast, Turing does not cover tuition fees and relies on host universities waiving them.

Students and universities in Northern Ireland can still participate in the scheme because of the special arrangements the region was given in the Brexit deal.

Leyen refusal
AFTER the UK left the EU both the Scottish and and Welsh governments separately sought to remain in Erasmus but their requests were turned down by Ms Von der Leyen who insisted it was a decision to be made for the whole of the UK (apart from Northern Ireland).

Both the Scottish and Welsh governments said they would set up their own Erasmus like programmes. But while Wales has now begun entering students on its new Taith scheme, the Scottish Government is still consulting on how the scheme could work.

Mark Lazarowicz, chair of the European Movement in Scotland, welcomed Labour opening the door to the possibility of rejoining Erasmus.

“Ian Murray’s comments are welcome, and we hope that this will be followed up by a definitive commitment that Labour would aim to rejoin Erasmus if it were to be in power after the next UK General Election,” he said.

“Leaving Erasmus+ was a big blow to universities and colleges in Scotland, and has deprived students of an opportunity to study or train in Europe which many thousands have enjoyed for decades. The loss of Erasmus+ was an act of cultural vandalism and we welcome any move to restore the huge opportunities it gave to students, apprentices and others.”

He added: “We emphasise, however, that we are still campaigning for the Scottish Government to introduce a Scottish replacement for Erasmus as soon as possible, as any change at UK level would likely take some time to negotiate and introduce. The Welsh Government has launched such a scheme, and it is already up and running, ‘Taith’.” 

A SPOKESMAN for Universities Scotland said: “Students and staff greatly valued the opportunities offered by Erasmus+.

“Outward mobility for work or study is vital to help open minds, exchange ideas, grow cultural awareness, and build confidence and employability skills. It also supports wider economic and societal agendas like the need for global perspectives on shared challenges. 

“Scotland’s universities are pleased to participate in the UK Government’s Turing scheme for outward mobility but it’s a one-way scheme and we can’t offer opportunities for inward mobility, despite the many benefits this offers our home students, our institutions, economy and Scotland’s soft power.

"Since Brexit ended access to Erasmus+, the Welsh Government has delivered its own two-way mobility scheme, Taith, funded to the value of £65 million over four years. 

“The Scottish Government’s plans are on hold despite a commitment in the Programme for Government in September 2021. Universities will continue to offer students the opportunity to study abroad but this could be made significantly easier with a Scottish scheme.”