"BREXIT has been an utter catastrophe for Scotland”. The words of First Minister Humza Yousaf at Saturday’s Believe in Scotland rally for independence, and a sentiment felt strongly across all corners of Scotland, and indeed by many of those elsewhere in the UK, including by many of those who voted for it.

Despite a majority of voters in every single local authority in Scotland voting to remain, Scotland was dragged out of the European Union against our will. While polls across the whole of the UK show a majority of Brits regretting Brexit – and even a majority saying they would vote in favour of rejoining the EU – it’s clear that with both Labour and the Tories supporting the Brexit status quo, the likelihood of the UK rejoining any time soon is next to zero.

READ MORE: Scottish students still feeling impact of loss of Erasmus+ scheme

While Brexit has had a disastrous impact on a huge range of issues – the economy, freedom of movement, labour shortages to name just a few – one of the most egregious and unnecessary casualties of Brexit was the UK’s withdrawal from the world-renowned Erasmus+ programme: the European Commission’s youth and student exchange programme which gives millions of students and young people the opportunity to study and train abroad.

Being in the EU is not a requirement of a country taking part in the Erasmus+ programme. During the Brexit withdrawal process in early 2020, then-prime minister Boris Johnson assured the House of Commons “there is no threat to the Erasmus scheme”.

Yet, as with most things said by Johnson, this turned out to be a lie, with him just a few months later declining the European Commission’s offer for the UK to remain a part of Erasmus+ in a move described as “cultural vandalism” by then-first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The UK Government later launched the Turing Scheme, designed to be a replacement for Erasmus+, but this has thus far turned out to be vastly sub-par.

The scheme has repeatedly failed to meet the same funding levels as Erasmus+ did, and numerous students who have taken part in the scheme haven’t had their funding confirmed until after they’ve already arrived in their host country.

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Unlike Erasmus+, the scheme doesn’t cover tuition fees, and the Department for Education has passed on the administering of the scheme to outsourcing firm Capita.

One of the most significant differences between the Turing Scheme and Erasmus+ is that the Turing Scheme is not reciprocal – meaning that while it provides students from the UK with opportunities to study abroad, it doesn’t provide the opportunity for students from other countries to study in the UK.

This decision by the UK Government entirely misses the key point of cultural exchange – it’s not a one-way street. I didn’t take part in Erasmus+ myself, but I can say without any doubt that my university experience was so much richer for the countless friends I made who were studying in Scotland through the scheme.

As a student at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) in Paisley, I made friends with people from all over the world who had come to study in Scotland through the scheme. It was a highlight of my university experience.

At one point, the UWS Students’ Union’s biggest student society was the Nordic Society – a group of largely Erasmus+ and international students from all over Europe, embracing all their different cultures and bringing a slice of them to the west of Scotland.

I’ll never forget attending their regular traditional Finnish pub crawl (or “Appro”) around Paisley – undoubtedly one of the highlights of the academic year at UWS.

The Nordic Society at UWS sadly no longer operates.

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I mourn the loss of the reciprocal exchange scheme not only for the hundreds of students across Europe who won’t get the opportunities my friends did to come and study in the UK, but also for the students all across the UK whose university experience will be that bit bleaker without them.

In response to the withdrawal from Erasmus+, and the poor replacement in the shape of the Turing Scheme, the Welsh Government has developed its own scheme – Taith.

It is much closer to the Erasmus+ scheme, including reciprocity, and although there are concerns around the long-term sustainability of funding the scheme, it has been warmly welcomed by students and those across the Welsh education sector, including NUS Wales.

The Scottish Government committed to a similar, Taith-style replacement for Erasmus+ in the SNP’s 2021 Holyrood manifesto, but more than two years later we’re still to see any progress on this – despite the Welsh scheme having been running successfully for more than a year.

Thanks to funding from the Irish Government, students in Northern Ireland continue to be able to take part in Erasmus+, meaning it is only students from England and Scotland who are still missing out on a comprehensive, reciprocal exchange programme.

Still, there is hope. The UK Government is in the process of rejoining the Horizon Europe, the EU’s major scientific research initiative.

Although the process has been messy and the UK’s two-and-a-half-year absence has undeniably caused significant harm to British science and innovation, it’s a positive sign that even this current UK Government is not adverse to everything EU-related, and that there is still potential for us to right some of the wrongs of Brexit and rejoin schemes like Horizon and Erasmus.

Last week, The National reported that the Scottish Government would be launching a pilot of its Erasmus+ replacement in 2023-24, and I think this is the perfect opportunity for Scotland and Wales to lead by example.

Scotland can create a scheme which gives back the ability for Scottish students to go on exchange, and which gives students from all over the world the opportunity to experience the best of Scotland and Scottish education.

If we succeed, it will only further expose the vast insufficiencies of the Turing Scheme, and further the cause for the UK to rejoin Erasmus+, ensuring that every student, no matter their background or where they are in the UK, has the opportunity to benefit from cultural exchange.