Fears have been raised that thousands of students could miss out on a learning opportunity of a lifetime if the Erasmus programme is scrapped post-Brexit.
The future of the scheme is still in the air as Brexit discussions continue in the Commons.
Last week the Liberal Democrats put forward an amendment to the withdrawal agreement, which would have committed the government to negotiating access to the programme after Britain leaves the EU.
The amendment was however voted down, although senior figures, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have insisted they are committed to maintaining links with the scheme.
Now Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart has obtained figures which reveal that between 2014/15 and 2017/18 1,367 students from the city’s universities studied abroad through the Erasmus.
He is now keen to ensure others are given the “massive” opportunity to experience new cultures while learning abroad – and that Aberdeen itself does not miss out on the diversity the programme brings to the city in return.
Mr Stewart said: “The Erasmus programme has been hugely beneficial to our city’s universities and students over the years, so it’s saddening the Tories have decided to sell out and pull support for the programme.
“Our students here in Aberdeen have gained massively from the opportunity to take a year abroad in Europe, giving them the chance to experience new cultures and ways of learning.
“Of course our city’s culture is also richer thanks to students from the continent coming to spend time in our world-class universities, contributing to our economy and society in the process.”
But last night Conservative North East MSP Tom Mason hit back and said the SNP had “capped” the number of Scottish students who could study at home.
He said: “The SNP have disgracefully put a cap on the number of Scottish students who can actually win a university place with only 55% receiving offers – it’s shocking.
“Students have been left in the dark with the SNPs scandalous actions resulting in Scots’ offer rates falling by 70% since 2008.
“The SNP’s perpetual grievance agenda is in stark contrast to the prime minister who said as recently as Wednesday that there is no threat to the Erasmus scheme.
“Students in Aberdeen have a great academic relationship with the EU with the city having one of the best education systems around.
“This is why it’s important students are given the chance to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with their friends in the EU.”
Spokesmen for both Aberdeen and the Robert Gordon universities said they were keen for the programme to continue beyond Brexit.
An Aberdeen University spokesman said: “Around 250 of our students study and work abroad each year through Erasmus plus and we back Universities UK in calling for continued funding of the Erasmus plus programme or a national replacement scheme as part of its #SupportStudyAbroad campaign.
“Vice-principal Alan Speight has recently written to MPs in support of the campaign, asking for the UK Government to commit to continue funding study abroad opportunities for UK students, even if the UK is unable to negotiate continued participation in Erasmus.”
A spokesman for RGU said: “The opportunity to study and work in another country through Erasmus plus provides wide ranging benefits, from helping to build confidence and independence, to developing problem solving skills and employability.
“We back the campaign by Universities UK which seeks full association to Erasmus+ after Brexit, or the provision of a fully-funded replacement scheme.”
One European student who benefited from the scheme- moving to study in the Granite City from his native Belgium- said his experience in Scotland made a big impression on him and his career prospects.
Brussels resident Thomas Thielemans spent three months studying journalism at RGU in Aberdeen through the Erasmus scheme in 2011.
He added that the scheme also led to British students learning about life on the continent.
Mr Thielemans said: “I spent one semester in the Granite City as part of my bachelor degree. Aberdeen has a lot to offer, though it’s the sight of historic churches converted into horror-themed pubs and casinos that really caught my attention.
“It was truly a memorable experience to study under a different education system and I made lots of European friends, many of whom I continue to see and speak to this day.
“Let us hope that Brexit does not mean the end of Erasmus for British students.”
Universities have said they will campaign for the continuation of the scheme after Brexit.
The recent vote does not necessarily pull the UK out of the scheme and Britian will continue to participate until the end of the current funding cycle- including 24-month projects that begin in June 2020 and end in May 2022.