The National:

THE UK Government’s last-minute decision to not participate in Erasmus+ has caused an outcry.

The popular scheme, which facilitates around 35,000 UK students a period of study in Europe every year, has existed since 1987. Despite assurances that the UK’s participation in the scheme was safe, the UK Government has announced that a new, UK-wide “Turing Scheme” will be launched to offer global opportunities to outgoing UK students.

But Erasmus is much more than the university student exchange scheme is most well-known for: it works on the basis of a complex multi-annual programme covering all kinds of exchanges with schools, vocational work placements and so on.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon to ask Westminster for Scotland to stay in EU's Erasmus scheme

Its overall purpose is to facilitate Europeans getting to know each other better but also to help combat problems, such as youth unemployment, by increasingly valuable skills. The wide-ranging nature of the scheme explains why the budget appears to be large – and too large for the UK Government to stomach.

The EU was not, it seems, ready to allow the UK to “cherry pick” only parts of the scheme. For students in Northern Ireland, the Irish government has stepped in with a workaround, allowing students there to continue to participate.

What about Scotland? Is there a way for students at Scottish institutions to participate in the future?

This would be challenging to resolve. Education is a devolved matter, but to be part of the Erasmus scheme requires signing up to the relevant EU law, which defines which states can take part in it.

The current regulation lists EEA states (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland), states who have started the accession process (such as Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey), and Switzerland as being able to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the EU to take part in the scheme. States covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy (across North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe) can also conclude an agreement if they wish.

The UK would be in a similar position to Switzerland with an ability to make a bilateral agreement – if the cost can be settled.

The problem for Scotland signing up of its own accord is that international relations, including relations with the EU, is reserved under Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. So although participation by Scottish universities and students in Erasmus would no doubt be welcomed in the EU, it is tricky to see how the Scottish Government could sign up in the absence of power to sign international treaties.

READ MORE: The UK leaving Erasmus is miserable – but Scotland has options

The UK Government could conclude an EU agreement on Erasmus, but only one which could be used by Scottish universities. This option seems to be the one behind the Scottish Government’s announcement today that it would ask the UK Government to remain part of the scheme.

It seems unlikely that the UK Government will agree for political reasons, and would also undermine the “UK-wide” launch of its Turing Scheme. However, if the Scottish Government’s request was granted, this might also lead to a similar Welsh request, and a complex process of bargaining on costs and how UK immigration policy would apply to exchange students in the absence of free movement.

Erasmus has had an enormous impact on the lives of students and young people across Europe. Whilst the details of the Turing scheme have yet to emerge, replicating it in such a short period of time and on a limited budget might prove too ambitious – and risk current and future students losing out.

Paul James Cardwell is a Professor in Law at the University of Strathclyde whose research interests cover the European Union and the law and policy of its external relations