Newspaper Column: ‘The UK leaving Erasmus is miserable – but Scotland has options’

Originally published in The National Newspaper, Scotland:

JUST a year after claiming that Erasmus was safe in his hands, Boris Johnson pours further misery on top of Brexit by forcing young Scots out of the hugely popular and iconic Erasmus scheme.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier noted disappointment that the UK demanded to leave the youth mobility programme, making it clear that continued participation was possible. To make matters worse, the proposed Turing Scheme alternative has now been advertised by UK ministers as a programme which will have less funding and “won’t be a full substitute” to Erasmus. If so, then what is the point?

Erasmus provides life-changing experiences and facilitates connections between locals and international students by providing funding to send and receive exchange students. Additionally, the “plus” in its name is representative of a huge range of funded projects on everything from language study in Scottish schools to wider youth mobility opportunities.

For the receiving state, there is much to gain from the hosting international students: the economic gain in the short-term, the social bonds they form and cultural enrichment they provide while here, as well as “soft power” gains in the long-term by giving young Europeans a life-long connection with our country which can follow into their career, bringing great benefits to our tourism, business, and political ties.

Given all the above, the decision to remove us from such a scheme seems utterly baffling. Of course, any new provision from the Turing Scheme is welcoming, but efforts to open up international study in other continents could have been done while the UK was a member state. Indeed, youth leaders have been pointing out for years that global study exchanges are inaccessible given the lack of support in comparison to Erasmus and its living support grants.

Naturally, there is scepticism that the UK will now stump up the funding for visas, flights, and living costs for students going to far-flung destinations such as New York or Tokyo. With promises of less funding, its looking likely that such a scheme will simply further accentuate inequality and elitism when it comes to the life-changing experience of international study.

That students in Northern Ireland have been supported by continued participation in Erasmus+ provides an example that it is indeed possible for Scotland to also secure continued access in addition to the Turing scheme.

For Scotland, the best fix is of course the re-joining the EU as an independent member state. But in the meantime, the Scottish Government should continue to seek participation in Erasmus by requesting an opt-in. Should such an opt-in require the approval of London then the Prime Minister will be forced to explain his decision to veto the aspiration of Scotland’s youth.

Alternatively, or indeed additionally, the Scottish Government should seek to create jointly funded scholarships with the EU, its member states, and other governments at local and state levels to facilitate study and youth mobility. It should be remembered that the UK decision also harms young Europeans who lose the chance to come to Scotland, and so there should be motivation on both sides to find solutions.

By undertaking creative solutions such as “bilateral scholarships”, Scotland can overcome the obstacles to ensure that Brexit does not stop the forming of youth mobility, and all the crucial benefits it brings. Perhaps just as important to Scotland is that such creative partnership with other European governments will strengthen relationships with the EU and its member states while we chart our course back.