SNP and Green ministers will continue pushing for post-Brexit Scottish access to the Erasmus+ education programme, the External Affairs Secretary has insisted.
Angus Robertson’s remarks come even though European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last year that separate association would not be possible following the UK Government’s decision to pull out.
But Mr Robertson told MSPs on Tuesday: “In our Programme for Government we’ve committed to develop a Scottish education exchange programme to support the international mobility of staff and learners, and work to re-secure Scotland’s access to the Erasmus+ programme – and that is exactly what we will do.”
However, amid growing frustration over the slow rate of progress, he declined to offer fresh detail on delivery timescales for the replacement scheme. It comes after The Herald revealed there was no confirmed schedule for a consultation process, despite the plan being set out in last year’s Programme for Government.
Liam McArthur, Liberal Democrat MSP for the Orkney Islands, said the situation in Scotland compared poorly with that in Wales, where ministers have unveiled a “Brexit-busting”, five-year international exchange arrangement backed with funding of up to £65 million.
Meanwhile, the Turing scheme, which was rolled out by Conservative ministers in the wake of Brexit, continues to be attacked for failing to support inward student placements and opportunities for academic staff.
Speaking during a Holyrood debate on the SNP-led administration’s international work, Mr Robertson said extensive efforts were ongoing to restore Scottish links to EU education projects.
He told MSPs: “The Scottish Government was hugely disappointed by the decision of the UK Government not to associate with Erasmus+, which currently prevents Scotland from participating fully in its own right after 2022/23.
“The Scottish Government recognises the importance of educational mobility and, since the UK Government decision, we have continued to engage in dialogue with the European Parliament and European Commission on how we can maximise our institutions’ access to the EU programme.”
However, Mr Robertson came under strong pressure from Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie, who asked why it was taking so long to deliver the alternative Scottish scheme.
He said: “I am just flabbergasted at the Scottish Government. It made lofty claims that it was going to replace the Erasmus scheme for Scotland, saying that the Turing scheme was inadequate because it was only a one-way scheme, rather than a reciprocal one.
“A year ago, thanks to Kirsty Williams, who was the Welsh Liberal Democrat education minister at the time, the Welsh launched a reciprocal scheme worth £65 million, which is better than the Turing scheme and works within the UK context. However, as has been revealed in The Herald today, we still do not even have a date for the consultation for Scotland’s replacement for the Erasmus scheme.”
He added: “We can have all the great and lofty speeches that the minister made earlier on but, unless we deliver on this stuff, it means absolutely nothing at all.”
The UK Government has strongly defended Turing. A spokeswoman said previously: “Scotland’s universities are world-leading institutions and we are very pleased the UK is able to support them in a number of ways, from facilitating visas for international students to substantial research funding.
“The UK Government’s Turing scheme is offering tremendous global opportunities for Scottish students. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and other partners as we continue to support Scotland’s higher education sector.”