Universities in Scotland have been “blocked” from taking part in the Erasmus exchange programme partly because Westminster deemed it “too European”, it has been claimed.
Scottish universities minister Richard Lochhead said the decision to deny institutions the ability to participate in the scheme was an act of “vandalism”.
His comments come a day after the Scottish and Welsh governments released a joint statement vowing to explore how both countries can continue to benefit from the EU exchange schemes.
In the statement they said the UK Government‘s decision to leave the student exchange programme following Brexit “will reduce opportunities for all learners and cut support for the most deprived communities”.
Boris Johnson had previously assured MPs that Brexit posed no threat to the Erasmus scheme.
Mr Lochhead, appearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee, said: “We’ve had an incredibly warm reception from the European Parliament and the European Commission, who are also heartbroken that the UK has left Erasmus.
“They know Scotland was opposed to that and benefited greatly from Erasmus.
“They have reached out to us and we’ve reached out to them to explore what other options there are for Scotland to have some kind of national relationship to Erasmus going forward.
“Unfortunately, the UK minister has told me her intention is to block any formal participation for Scotland with Erasmus and that the funding that we would have expected to see from the UK Government will not be provided for any such arrangement, either.
“So, we will work with the UK Government and try to, hopefully, see if they’ll take a softer attitude.”
Asked for his opinion on why the UK had been pulled from the scheme, he added: “The UK Government’s official line is that it is not value for money.
“We think value can’t just be counted in pounds in terms of Erasmus; it’s about cultural experience, it’s about ties with Europe, it’s about the education experience.”
He added: “I am suspicious that the UK Government felt that the Erasmus scheme is symbolic of close ties with Europe, and therefore Brexit is Brexit and they unfortunately committed this vandalism by removing us from Erasmus because it was too European.”
In place of Erasmus, the UK Government has proposed a more limited but global alternative called the Turing Scheme, named after the pioneering mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, which it said offered better value for money.
‘Not in the interest of UK taxpayers’
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The UK decided to not participate in the next Erasmus+ programme as it was not in the interest of UK taxpayers and our net contribution would have been around £2bn over the programme.
“The new global Turing Scheme will provide thousands of students across all of the UK with the opportunity to study and work abroad, beyond EU countries, and will include additional support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We will continue to work with the sector and devolved administrations to deliver the programme, backed by over £100 million, ensuring students from all backgrounds benefit from the opportunity to learn across the world.”