The president of the European Commission confirmed this week that neither Wales nor Scotland will be allowed to rejoin the Erasmus+ exchange programme unless the UK as a whole does.
But efforts are underway in Brussels to explore other options, an MEP has told Nation.Cymru.
Under the Brexit agreement, the UK will no longer be a part of the Erasmus scheme after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government opted not to pursue membership. That was despite the EU offering continued participation as part of the deal, brokered late in 2020.
Instead, the UK government announced a new ‘Turing scheme’, which will aim to mirror the opportunities granted by Erasmus. The education exchange programme was founded in part by Welsh EU official Dr Hywel Ceri Jones and is now into its third decade of operation.
Both the Welsh and Scottish governments branded Westminster’s replacement scheme as “a lesser imitation”. First Minister Mark Drakeford called it a “small-minded approach”.
Northern Irish students will be able to access Erasmus thanks to the Irish government, which pledged to cover the costs. Dublin is expected to outline exactly how the arrangement will work in the coming months.
After Cardiff and Edinburgh said that they would aim to stay in the programme too, the cause was taken up in the European Parliament by German Greens MEP Terry Reintke, who penned a letter to the head of the Commission.
That letter – co-signed by more than 150 of her fellow politicians – asked President Ursula von der Leyen if it would be possible for Welsh and Scottish students to take part and whether the Commission was looking into the issue.
According to Ms von der Leyen’s reply, the short answer is no.
“As one constituent nation of the UK, association to Erasmus+ is not possible for Scotland, separately. The only possibility for the UK is to associate as a whole, or not at all,” the president said in her letter, which also referred to Wales.
However, it does not dash Welsh and Scottish hopes entirely, as Ms von der Leyen writes that “the Commission remains open and ready to negotiate should the UK reconsider its position.”
Ms Reintke told Nation.Cymru that “this is not the answer we had hoped for” but welcomed the Commission’s willingness to come back to the negotiating table if asked by the UK government.
“This letter was a first step. Now we know the different views on this. The next step will be to find out what are our possibilities to create a pathway for more inclusive participation in Erasmus,” Ms Reintke said, adding that she hopes to keep it on the European Parliament’s agenda.
Although ostensibly out of Erasmus, Welsh students will not be totally precluded from participating in some of the programme’s initiatives, which can be accessed by students and researchers from around the world.
They include the ‘Jean Monnet Actions’ – a scheme named after one of the founding fathers of the EU, aimed at building bridges between academics – and the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree, which awards EU-funded scholarships.
Ms von der Leyen pointed out in her letter that those two programmes “both have strong international outreach, the latter with a strong involvement of Scottish and Welsh universities.”
Scotland’s independence movement will likely be boosted by the Commission’s confirmation that it will be barred while a part of the UK.