Scotland and Europe still have a shared desire for student exchanges

Last week, Universities Scotland’s international team met with MEPs and universities in Edinburgh to discuss mobility options and other links in a post-Brexit world. Our colleagues, David Donaldson and Ela Kossakowska reflect on the visit.

“Getting 27 nations to agree on anything can be difficult, so the fact they all agree on the importance of Erasmus+ tells you something” quipped one of the MEP visitors, as a delegation of seven MEPs from the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) met academics, staff and students from Scottish universities last Monday (19 June).

The MEPs were in Scotland for a few days on a fact-finding mission, meeting with education and culture stakeholders including universities. In an event chaired by Prof Andrea Nolan, as Convener of our International Committee, members shared their experiences of student mobility since the UK’s participation in Erasmus+ ended. Since then, the Turing Scheme offers UK-based students opportunities for outward mobility but Scotland and the UK finds itself without a collaborative scheme supporting inward mobility for students.

Our members discussed current challenges and opportunities in regard to exchange arrangements. University alliances and networks with partners were also discussed as a good way to maintain our links with our European neighbours.

Stephanie Pitticas, Vice Principal at the University of the West of Scotland facilitated a discussion amongst students, which focused on the benefits students gained from mobility opportunities. Iona and Emma from Glasgow Caledonian University and University of Edinburgh respectively, who studied in France, and Rinna, a Finn who studied at the University of Glasgow, spoke to attendees about how the opportunity to take part in exchange schemes were life-changing experiences for them.

The students talked about the ability to immerse themselves in another culture, learn language skills that would allow them to work in their host country in the future as well as the opportunity to develop independence and confidence. All three described how their worldview had changed and they were now more international in their outlook.

The students highlighted their concern that the next generation of Scottish students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, may not have the same exchange opportunities as they were privileged to have.

Welcome news emerged less than 48 hours later, when the Scottish Government committed to a pilot scheme for a Scottish Education Exchange Programme within the coming financial year. This is welcome progress. Universities Scotland will support the development of such a scheme so Scotland can once again offer two-way exchange opportunities to students and staff.