Brexit will cause a “major disaster” for schools and colleges if it removes access to the biggest student exchange programme in the world, politicians have heard.
The potential loss of the long-running Erasmus+ scheme would not only deny thousands of young people potentially life-changing opportunities in other countries, but could also harm teachers’ professional development, according to experts.
The warnings were made at yesterday's meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee.
It comes after concerns about the impact of Brexit on Erasmus+, languages and internationalism have been raised by education commentators in England recently.
Erasmus has been running since 1987 and in 2014 was rebranded as “Erasmus+” to reflect the addition of new youth and lifelong learning strands.
MSPs heard that 11,168 young people went overseas through Erasmus+ from 2014 to 2016, including pupils from around 550 schools.
Marion Spöring, of the University Council for Modern Languages Scotland, said the programme was “essential” for all parts of the education sector and that losing it would be “a major disaster”.
British Council in Scotland director Jackie Killeen said that, as well as Erasmus+ being the biggest exchange programme in the world, it also played a key role in the professional development of language teachers.
And committee convener Joan McAlpine said she was struck by evidence that the programme helped college lecturers improve their skills in subjects that “the general public would not normally associate with Erasmus”, including car maintenance, hairdressing and childcare.
The benefits to young people who take part in the scheme was also highlighted at the meeting. West Lothian College commercial and marketing head Daniel Evans said that, after taking part in placements across several European countries, students “look beyond Friday and consider what they might be doing next year or in their future lives”.
He added: “When they come back…it is as if they are different young people. It is just amazing.”
But, Mr Evans said, the UK’s ultimate decision on whether to retain freedom of movement would have “a direct impact on our ability to stay in Erasmus+”.
Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw suggested at the committee meeting that, were the UK not able to remain in Erasmus+ as a result of Brexit, Scotland might arrange to stay involved on its own.
However, National Union of Students Scotland president Luke Humberstone said: “Being part of the EU is not a prerequisite for being part of Erasmus+, but, as we have seen from Switzerland, when rules on freedom of movement or immigration are changed it makes developing bilateral agreements with individual countries much more complex.”
Scotland received record Erasmus+ funding of €21 million (about £18.5 million) in 2017, up from €16 million (about £14 million) in 2016.
In December, a UK-wide campaign led from Scotland was launched in an attempt to save the programme.
Youth work organisation YouthLink Scotland is behind #KeepErasmusPlus, which highlights that 600,000 people in the UK had been involved in the programme over 30 years, including“life-changing opportunities” for young people from “some of our most disadvantaged communities”.