THE EU has rejected calls to let Scotland participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme while it is a “constituent nation” of the UK.

The UK decided to leave the scheme after Brexit, with Scotland’s First Minister describing the move a an act of “cultural vandalism” by ministers.

The scheme was previously used by more than 2000 Scottish students and young people every year, according to Scottish Government figures.

In response more than 140 European Parliament members wrote to the European Commission, urging officials to explore pathways to keeping Scotland – and Wales – in the programme.

READ MORE: Scottish Government 'looking at options' to remain in Erasmus scheme

Terry Reintke, a German MEP and vice president of the Greens/EFA group, who studied in Edinburgh as part of the exchange scheme, initiated the letter calling on the EU to keep the programme going.

Last night Commission president Ursula von der Leyen responded to the letter, saying it would not be possible for Scotland alone to take part in Erasmus.

“As one constituent nation of the UK, association to Erasmus+ is not possible for Scotland, separately. The only possibility for the UK is to associate as a whole, or not at all,” she wrote.

Von der Leyen went on: “The EU offered the United Kingdom full association to the Erasmus+ programme in exchange for the standard financial contribution from third countries participating in Union programmes.

“Following a year of constructive negotiations with the UK Government, the decision was made in London not to pursue UK association to Erasmus+.”

Reintke posted the letter to Twitter, writing the response was “not what we had hoped for”.

READ MORE: Erasmus+: Will Westminster allow Scotland to rejoin international scheme?

However she added: “We will continue to explore how Scotland and Wales could stay in Erasmus+.

“Next step: Organise a debate on this in the European Parliament. Erasmus+ is a cornerstone in a peaceful continent – also beyond the EU.”

The UK Government has launched the Turing scheme, claimed to be a replacement for Erasmus.

Boris Johnson, who previously promised there was no risk of the UK being pulled from Erasmus, said the UK’s own scheme would involve “the best universities in the world”.

Alex Orr, policy adviser for the European Movement in Scotland, said: “We would urge the European Commission to reconsider its position, but noting admission to Erasmus for Scotland alone may not be possible, call on the UK Government to associate to the scheme as a third country, a position we are aware it previously rejected. 

“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.”