NICOLA Sturgeon's government has not ruled out making a request to the Tory Government to allow Scottish students to continue to take part in the Europe-wide Erasmus exchange programme, The National can reveal.

Universities Minister Richard Lochhead told The National today: “The UK Government’s decision to walk away from Erasmus which is used by more than 2,000 Scottish students and young people annually is a huge blow.

“I will be writing to the UK Government to express my profound disappointment at this decision and their plans for a watered down alternative to the programme – all of which has been pushed through irrespective of views of the Devolved Administrations.

“This is simply unacceptable and we are looking at alternative options.”

It is understood that while the request will not be included in the letter to the UK Government tomorrow, sources say the option to seek to rejoin Erasmus has not been ruled out.

The First Minister last week condemned Boris Johnson's decision to pull out of the Erasmus scheme - which is open to non EU members.

She tweeted: "Ending UK participation in Erasmus - an initiative that has expanded opportunities and horizons for so many young people - is cultural vandalism by the UK Government."

Johnson opted not to continue with UK membership of the Erasmus scheme as the deal between the EU and Britain was reached last week.

Johnson said the UK would instead establish its own scheme with “the best universities in the world”, to be named after the British computing pioneer Alan Turing.

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Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the Government “decided not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme” after the two sides were unable to agree on the cost of Britain’s continued membership.

The omission of Erasmus from the UK-EU deal ends a scheme that had offered student exchanges as well as school links, work experience and apprenticeships across Europe since 1987. Under the latest version of the scheme, Erasmus+, around 200,000 people have taken part including around 15,000 British university students each year.

In general, the following non-EU members - or third countries - take part in the university exchange part of the programme: Republic of North Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Serbia

Adam Tickell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said last week: “Leaving Erasmus is a real sadness, a scheme whose original foundations were laid at Sussex. Over the years the Erasmus programme transformed the lives of thousands of young people.”

In January, Johnson assured MPs there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme”.

But confirming the end of membership, he said on Thursday: “On Erasmus, it was a tough decision.”

He claimed the UK “loses out” financially because of the larger number of EU nationals coming to study in the UK.

“So what we are doing is producing a UK scheme for students to go around the world,” the Prime Minister said. “It will be called the Turing scheme, named after Alan Turing, so students will have the opportunity not just to go to European universities but to go to the best universities in the world. Because we want our young people to experience the immense intellectual stimulation of Europe but also of the whole world.”

Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International, said: “It’s hugely disappointing after all this that we are no longer in the scheme, but it’s not surprising – I understand that the European commission was not willing to budge on cost.”

Stern said she was pleased at the prospect of a new national plan to fund outward mobility, which she hoped would meet the costs of young people travelling overseas.

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“As I understand it, there will be grants for young people not just in universities but broader than that, to support study and possibly working and volunteering. These experiences help graduates gain employment, especially for students from low-income backgrounds who are the least likely to be able to travel abroad otherwise,” Stern said.

Any Erasmus replacement needed to be “ambitious and fully funded”, she added. “It must also deliver significant opportunities for future students to go global, which the Erasmus programme has provided to date.”

The new scheme is not expected to fund students coming to the UK, as Erasmus does now, which suggests British universities will miss out on a source of income. A report earlier this year said ending Erasmus membership would cost the UK more than £200m a year.