UK education ministers have raised concerns over the future of Scotland and Wales Erasmus+ students in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Welsh Minister for Education Kirsty Williams and Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, have written a joint letter to UK Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, urging him to work towards continuing the UK’s participation in the EU-wide Erasmus+ international student exchange programme. The ministers highlight high rates of Scotland and Wales Erasmus+ participation – more than 15,000 Scottish students and staff participated in the programme between 2014 and 2018 – and the growing risk of the UK leaving the EU without a deal in place.
The ministers’ letter says: ‘As we understand the position, the UK Government has not, that we have seen, made or planned alternative domestic UK arrangements to ensure that the education sector can continue to access international mobility opportunities in place of those which will no longer be available due to the UK’s exclusion from Erasmus. Any such plans would, of course, require discussion and agreement with the Devolved Administrations. For the Devolved Administrations to put in place alternative arrangements to address the loss of provision arising from the UK Government’s failure to reach an agreement with the EU and any failure to develop and fund appropriate UK alternative arrangements, a transfer of funding from the UK Government to Devolved Administrations’ budgets would be required.
‘As we have made clear in previous Welsh and Scottish Government statements and various Ministerial and official-level discussions, and in line with pre-referendum promises made by those campaigning in favour of Brexit, we expect the funding that the Devolved Administrations would have received from the EU to be replaced in full by the UK Government.’
The letter emphasises the official position of both the Scottish and Welsh governments that a no-deal Brexit would be deeply harmful to the UK as a whole and to Scotland and Wales in particular; and calls on Williamson to organise a meeting of education ministers as a matter of urgency to discuss potential action to minimise the disruption caused by Brexit to education across the UK.
Mr Lochhead said: “Thousands of Scottish students benefit from Erasmus+ yearly, proportionally more than from any other country in the UK. The Scottish and Welsh Governments are clear that we must remain a full participant in Erasmus+. I am also alarmed to hear the UK Department for Education could be considering an Erasmus+ replacement programme for England only – with potentially no consequential funding for Devolved Administrations [of Scotland and Wales] to put in place their own arrangements. That’s why we have written to the UK Government calling for urgent action and assurances that Scottish students won’t miss out.
“It is the Scottish Government’s preference to remain in the EU, but in the event of a damaging no-deal Brexit, students could now see the door to this fantastic cultural and educational exchange slammed shut. It is unacceptable that with less than 12 weeks left until the UK Government plans to take the United Kingdom out of the EU without an agreement in place, there is still no plan for alternative arrangements.”