SCOTLAND's hopes of rejoining the European Union's Erasmus scheme have been initially dashed after Brussels indicated it is only open to independent countries.

The Commission last month seemed willing to discuss how Scottish students could take part in the groundbreaking exchange programme with talks held between Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead and the EU's education commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

At the same time 144 MEPs from across Europe wrote to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Gabriel urging them to allow Scotland and Wales to participate in Erasmus.

The MEPs have not yet received a response from Von der Leyen. However, at the end of last week a commission spokesman told a press conference the programme was only open to "countries", which it regards as independent states.

READ MORE: Brussels looks at enabling Scotland to remain in EU's Erasmus scheme

An EU Commission spokesperson suggested to reporters that because Scotland and Wales were parts of the UK – which it regards as "the country" – they would not be able to join the programme.

Asked if the commission had received a letter about rejoining, the spokesperson said: "I can confirm that Commissioner Gabriella has received the letter you mentioned, and this letter is being analysed now by the services and we will reply in due course.

"What I could mention as well is, in the process of the negotiation the UK decided unfortunately not to join the Erasmus programme after their exit from the union.

"And in general based on the Erasmus regulations, only countries can join the programme."

David Clarke, Vice-Chair of the European Movement in Scotland said: “While we are not aware of this particular policy decision, we recognise that Scotland holds a special place with the wider European public, and the EU holds a special place with the Scottish public as demonstrated in the referendum.

"We always encourage our European partners to look beyond narrow legalisms and embrace a pragmatic, positive and issues-focused partnership with Scotland while we are temporarily outside of the EU.

"In this particular case, the links Erasmus affords, strengthen the ongoing case for Scotland and/or the UK to rejoin the European Union.”

Alex Orr, policy adviser for the European Movement in Scotland, added: "If true we would urge the European Commission to reconsider its position. 

“The loss of Erasmus, which brings different countries and nationalities together and generates such massive cultural and educational benefits, is a huge blow,.

“Erasmus allows many thousands of young people, no matter their background, to continue to improve their futures, their access to global opportunities, and their development as citizens of a connected world. 

“Over 2000 Scottish students, staff and learners use the scheme and indeed, Scotland attracts proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sends more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

"Through associated youth work projects the scheme is estimated to deliver at least £7 in value for every £1 it costs in public cash, and its value to the economy has been estimated to be worth nearly £34 million annually since 2014.

“A unilateral replacement, such as the proposed Turing scheme, will never be able to replicate the wealth of opportunities for all young people, or raise the same reciprocal benefits of the Erasmus Programme.”

Irish TD Neale Richmond, who hoped Scotland would be able to rejoin Erasmus, told The National it was disappointing but not surprising news.

"This is a shame but probably not a surprise," he said.

"While I do understand the difficult position that the European Commission is in, there is merit in seeing what may be possible.

"Scottish institutions have been wonderful Erasmus hosts for many European students over the years while many Scottish students have been lucky to experience Erasmus.

"Losing that is a lose lose for everyone."

The Scottish Government has been approached for a comment.