The Scottish Government is still “awaiting clarity” on the future of the Erasmus European study abroad programme in the wake of Brexit, Scotland’s higher education minister has said.
Richard Lochhead visited Aberdeen University, where he met a group of EU students on their first day back to campus since Britain left the political and economic union on Friday.
It comes as the future of the Erasmus programme – the EU’s flagship cultural and educational project that has run for 30 years – hangs in the balance.
Speaking at the Duncan Rice library on campus, Mr Lochhead said: “This is the first day for our universities getting back to campus of not being a member of the European Union, following Brexit just a couple of days ago.
“Therefore it’s a very important time to highlight how important it is that we have to continue to attract European students and staff to come and study and work in Scotland.
“If you look at this university here in Aberdeen, 20% of the students are international and many of them from other European countries.
“Having that European flavour on our campuses is so important for everyone’s education, for the outlook of our young people, to broaden horizons and of course it’s a big part of what our universities do in terms of higher education.
“It’s really important going forward that we are able to maintain those deep European links we have and we have to find ways of doing that irrespective of the facts Brexit has happened against our will.”
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The Scottish Government will continue to talk to the UK Government to ensure that “appropriate support” is available financially to fund and enable mobility of students and staff within Europe, Mr Lochhead said.
But he added there have so far been “no concrete guarantees whatsoever” on whether programmes such as Erasmus will continue.
He said: “Scottish universities and colleges participated in these European exchange programmes more than any other part of the UK.
“Therefore, if they’re not kept at the same level going forwards then we will lose out more than the rest of the UK.
“That would be really bad news for the experience of Scottish students not being able to participate in European programmes as well as European students not being able to come to Scotland.
“We’re awaiting for clarity from the UK Government as to what they’re planning as a successor to Erasmus.
“Our preference is to continue to participate in Erasmus, which you can do even if you’re not in the European Union. That’s our number one preference.
“They’re about to double the European budget to 30 billion euros for the next Erasmus programme. Scotland should be part of that as we want to be pro-European and part of the European experience.”
Proportionally, more Scots take part in Erasmus than from any other country in the UK.
Between 2014 and 2018, 14,000 participants from Scotland reaped the benefits of the EU-led scheme, securing over 90 million euros in funding.
At the start of this academic year, there were 2,655 European students from 33 countries at Aberdeen University and 709 staff – 17% of its workforce – giving it one of the largest European campus populations in Scotland.
More than 2,000 Scottish higher education students take part in Erasmus each year.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The next generation of EU programmes are due to begin in 2021 and are currently under negotiation, including the Erasmus+ programme.
“Where it is in the UK’s interests, we are open to participating in some specific EU programmes.”