Scottish Higher Education has been heavily impacted by a number of factors, in particular COVID-19 and new UK immigration restrictions on EU nationals post Brexit. Scottish universities have seen substantial declines in numbers of international students and research grants. Applications to Scottish universities from students domiciled in the EU fell by 40% in 2021.
With the UK Government deciding not to associate to Erasmus+, the number of international exchange students is likely to decrease as well. According to HESA figures, in 2018/19 alone, 2,935 Erasmus+ students attended Scottish Universities, compared to 2,755 in 2019/20. Losing these students will not only impact financially on Scottish institutions, it will also impoverish the lives of many individuals and Scotland as a whole – our institutions thrive thanks to their diverse, international student bodies.
The UK Government's decision to discontinue Erasmus participation will of course also be acutely felt by young Scots. For them, Brexit means a sudden and unwelcome end to a life-enhancing opportunity.
The UK Government's replacement Turing Scheme is a poor alternative by any measure. It offers no support for youth clubs, adult learners, staff, or the inward mobility of participants to the UK. Instead the Turing Scheme has a significantly lower budget than the UK received every year from Erasmus, is much more limited in scope and consequently will reduce the number of opportunities available to young people from Scotland in the EU.
This is an example of where Brexit will impact most on those who are already disadvantaged. Socioeconomically disadvantaged people, and people outwith traditional education pathways, who would have benefited from international learning opportunities such as those funded through Erasmus and other European funds, now face reduced support from the UK Government. There are clear concerns from stakeholders about similar disadvantage in other areas.
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