SCOTTISH and Welsh ministers have united over fears that a Europe-wide student programme could be replaced with an England-only exchange scheme after Brexit.

In a joint letter, Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Further and Higher Education Minister, and Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams say students must not lose out on key opportunities.

Currently students from throughout the UK can take part in the Erasmus+ project, which allows them to switch to another EU institution for part of their course. These studies count towards qualifications begun in their home nations and more than 15,000 students and staff from Scotland took part between 2014-18.

However, it is unclear whether any UK student will be able to participate after the current programme ends in 2020 and there are fears that Westminster’s Department for Education may set up an England-only replacement, with no funding made available for devolved administrations to give the same chances to their learners.

The matter is linked to a potential No-Deal exit and, in a letter to their Westminster counterpart Gavin Williamson, who leads the Department for Education, Lochhead and Williams call for an urgent summit to determine the impact on young people – and what officials are doing about it.

The call comes as lessons are set to begin again in Scotland’s schools and just weeks from the Brexit deadline.

The letter states: “We are now 12 weeks away from a scenario where the UK Government takes the United Kingdom out of the EU without an agreement in place. A meeting of Education Ministers needs to be arranged urgently to discuss the steps being taken by the UK Government to ensure that a loss of provision and opportunities for universities, colleges and schools is avoided.”

The Department for Education said: “This Government is working to negotiate a new deal but in the event the UK leaves the EU without an agreement in place we have already guaranteed cover for the payments for successful UK applicants for Erasmus+ and ESC bids. Successful bids are those that are approved directly by the European Commission or by the UK National Agency and ratified by the European Commission.

“The UK Government has also repeatedly made clear that it values international exchange and collaboration in education, which is why we are exploring participation in the successor scheme and preparing for a range of potential outcomes.”

But Lochhead commented: “Thousands of Scottish students benefit from Erasmus+ yearly, proportionally more than from any other country in the UK.

“It is the Scottish Government’s preference to remain in the EU, but in the event of a damaging No-Deal Brexit, students could now see the door to this fantastic cultural and educational exchange slammed shut. It is unacceptable that with less than 12 weeks left until the UK Government plans to take the United Kingdom out of the EU without an agreement in place, there is still no plan for alternative arrangements.”