This week marked 60 years since the death of Robert Schuman, famous as one of the architects of the European project.

Schuman thought – correctly – that merging economic interests would help raise standards of living and be the first step towards a more united Europe post-War. In creating this new Community, Schuman declared "Europe will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."

I’ve made it no secret that I am a Europhile and while there’s much to be improved within the European Union, there are undoubtedly many concrete achievements for the EU project.

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One such success is Horizon Europe, and I’ve restated recently why UK participation is so important to our economic future so it’s good to see the UK and EU have finally signed the association agreement. 

But, equally successful is the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme, which has supported tens of millions of young people across the world to participate in study abroad exchanges since its inception in 1987.

The Herald: Professor Anton Muscatelli Principal of Glasgow University

Erasmus+ is unique in it also offers youth exchanges, apprenticeships, volunteering and staff exchanges in all fields of education. It has a hefty budget of €26.2 billion. Until the finalisation of the UK’s withdrawal agreement in 2020, we benefitted significantly from Erasmus+ participation. That year alone, almost 56,000 people from the UK benefited from mobility through the scheme, and two Scottish universities (Glasgow and Edinburgh) were amongst the top three sending institutions.

Since Brexit, the UK Government launched the Turing Scheme to ‘replace’ Erasmus+. Whilst welcome for the sector, it focuses primarily on outbound students and the amount of funding offered pales in comparison to the massive Erasmus+ budget.

In Wales, the Government launched an ambitious multi-year programme Taith last year, with £65 million of funding to support student exchange and mobility opportunities.

Here in Scotland, we’ve been eagerly anticipating a similar initiative and a renewed emphasis on educational exchange, so the news in the First Minister’s Programme for Government of a new Scottish Education Exchange Programme is very welcome.

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The Scottish Government has said this Programme will be built on an initial test and learn project to be delivered in the next year and will prioritise placements for disadvantaged groups. I very much welcome this: however, we know the public purse is stretched and a scheme like this requires robust investment, but not at the expense of the existing funding for universities and colleges.

If supported properly, the returns on this investment could be immense.  Especially for our young people who might never have had the opportunity otherwise to travel abroad, to experience new cultures and learn more about the world beyond Scotland. We know historically there are challenges in supporting young people from low-income backgrounds, those with disabilities and those who are care-experienced to participate in opportunities to live and study abroad. A new Programme scaled up from this pilot could be transformational for many young people.

And in terms of our competitiveness and economy, we need more multilinguists. We currently lag far behind our European neighbours. Many European countries teach foreign languages consistently from primary through to tertiary education. Language skills in the UK have suffered from a complex trend of long-term decline. Opportunities for our young people to live and learn abroad as part of their studies helps address this.

While I regret that many of our young people are suffering the aftermath of Brexit, I sincerely hope we’ll soon see this new Scottish Education Exchange Programme up and running. We owe it to our younger generation to create those opportunities, but we need ambition and significant investment to make this a success.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli is the Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Glasgow