EU funding threat for Scottish youth work

Doubt over the future of Erasmus+ casts shadow over sector.

Scotland’s youth work sector could miss out on more than £1 million of annual European funding due to Brexit.

That’s the amount of support currently received every year by the sector from the Erasmus+ international exchange programme, Scotland’s participation in which is now in jeopardy with less than a month to go until the end of the transition period.

The Scottish Government has sought repeated assurance that the UK Government will prioritise continued association to the programme, and, if the UK Government fails in its negotiations to secure access, that any replacement scheme will provide funding on a par with the amounts historically secured under Erasmus+ and that all those who currently benefit from the programme will be supported.

Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead has highlighted the urgency of a decision between Devolved Administration counterparts and Michelle Donelan, UK Minister of State for Universities.

Mr Lochhead said:

“Scotland’s vibrant youth work sector supports children and young people’s well-being and helps close the attainment gap. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen the sector rise to the challenge of providing services remotely, supporting some of our most vulnerable young people.

“If, as we expect, EU funding for youth work projects and youth exchanges are no longer available to the Scottish sector, the contribution of youth work to enhancing young people’s capacity for social and cultural connectedness and for understanding and accepting difference could be clearly impacted.

“I was fortunate enough to see the benefits of Erasmus+ first hand earlier this year, when I visited the Royston Youth Action project in the north of Glasgow.  The impact of participating in international exchanges with young people from Estonia, Finland and Austria had been life-changing for them.  Some of the young people had never had a passport, let alone the opportunity to travel abroad before. The Erasmus exchange experience has resulted in a lasting partnership between the participants which endures to this day.

“Research shows those in Scotland with fewer opportunities participating in Erasmus+ report a significantly higher effect when compared with young people who face fewer barriers. And those who study or train abroad are twice as likely to find employment quickly. Losing out to Erasmus+ would be a significant blow to many, and not just financially.”

One of Scotland’s major recipients of Erasmus+ support has been YouthLink Scotland, the national agency for youth work.

YouthLink CEO Tim Frew said:

“It is disappointing to see no money for youth work has been allocated to the UK Spending Review, in terms of any potential domestic alternative to the Erasmus+ programme. We hope this is not a signal from the UK Government that these opportunities for some of our most disadvantaged young people are to end.

“Erasmus+ has provided significant transformative and life-changing opportunities for young people, many of whom are furthest away from mainstream opportunities. Whether it’s employability programmes, work on gender-based violence or environmental sustainability, the opportunity to visit, work with and learn from our European counterparts cannot be underestimated.

“We would like to see the Prime Minister make a commitment to the continuation of Erasmus+, a programme that already involves non-EU members, including Iceland and Norway. If youth work participation in either Erasmus+ or any domestic alternative, is no longer open to us, these opportunities will be lost for young people for generations to come.”

The Erasmus+ programme facilitates the mobility of individuals across Europe, be that for learning, teaching, or working, by financing individual exchanges from higher education, adult education, vocational education and training, youth work, schools and sport.

Scotland attracts proportionally more Erasmus+ participants from across Europe - and sends more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK. Between 2014 and 2018 Scottish institutions and organisations secured more than 90 million euros in Erasmus+ funding with more than 80 youth work projects benefitting from around £4.4 million. With the sector estimated to deliver at least £7 in value for every £1 it costs in public cash, its value to the economy has been estimated to be worth nearly £34 million since 2014.

Recently the European Commission confirmed a 60% increase to the programme’s budget, which is now sitting at over 23 billion euros.


Scottish Government funding for youth work is being increased more than 30% this year to recognise the vital role the sector will play in making up any ground lost in learning during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. A newly created £3 million Youth Work Education Recovery Fund - administered by YouthLink Scotland - is being targeted at those communities and young people who need the most support, bringing Government spending in the youth work sector this year to at least £12.5 million.

Recent findings show three-quarters of Scottish students who take part in Erasmus+ receive a first- or upper second-class degree, compared with 60% of those who did not study or train abroad. Students who did an Erasmus placement are 50% less likely to experience long-term unemployment, and participants in vocational education and training have a higher employment rate (81% vs 68%) three years after the end of their stay abroad.

Commissioned by YouthLink Scotland, Hall Aitken (2016) estimated the social return on investment in youth work contributes between £656 million and £2 billion to the Scottish economy every year and shows a return of £7 for every £1 of public cash.


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