The UK government shut down the chance of continuing the Erasmus programme because it was “too European”, a Scottish minister has claimed.
The education exchange programme was one of the casualties of the Brexit process, but Scotland and Wales are continuing to push for access to it.
The UK government has announced a replacement scheme, named after famed mathematician Alan Turing.
Speaking to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, Scotland’s further and higher education minister Richard Lochhead said: “The UK government’s official line is that it’s not value for money.
“The UK Treasury were carrying out value for money exercises which we found very, very difficult to influence or even find out about in the last few years.
“(The Treasury) clearly came to the conclusion that maintaining participation in Erasmus was not value for money despite the fact that 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 educational experience – particularly for people from deprived backgrounds who benefited from it.”
Lochhead claims the UK government position was to continue with Erasmus participation “up until the last moment”.
When asked why he thinks the scheme is being discontinued in the UK, Lochhead said: “I am suspicious that the UK government felt that the Erasmus scheme was symbolic of close ties with Europe.
“They unfortunately committed this vandalism by removing us from Erasmus to go for the alternative global scheme because it was too European.
“I was unaware up until the UK government walked away from Erasmus that there was any problem with Erasmus.
“We were assured that the number one priority up until the last moment was full participation in Erasmus.
“If it was a value for money issue, surely they knew that over the last few years, they must have worked that out.”
Lochhead also accepted that not enough has been done to support students during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It would be arrogant to always say that we’ve done enough, because I’m sure we’ve made mistakes,” he said.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever been through a global pandemic having such an impact on further and higher education, so there will definitely be lessons to learn, no doubt mistakes have been made.”
The minister went on to say that the Scottish government and his department have already learned lessons and improved support for students since the onset of the pandemic.
“We’re getting very few reports of students not being supported,” he said.