Horizon opens but Erasmus stays closed: Scotland’s Higher Education landscape

Scotland Europe Initiative
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Horizon opens but Erasmus stays closed: Scotland’s Higher Education landscape

October 27 2023, by Professor Murray Pittock MAE FRSE

The timing of the 5th Scotland-Europe Initiative workshop on Higher Education event was fortuitous, as it came at the heart of new developments in both Scotland and the UK which will have a clear impact on Higher Education experience and opportunities. In Westminster, the UK government finally associated to Horizon in September and in Holyrood the Scottish Education Exchange Programme pilot was announced for 2023-24, with an opening date for applications shortly after the workshop. (Janet Brown FRSE, Convenor of the RSE’s Education Committee, is one of the assessors, and outcomes will be known in January 2024.)

Post Brexit, the Higher Education sector-over 90% of whose staff voted Remain in 2016-has found itself caught up in policy wars. Within Scotland, a positive approach both to EU citizens and to ERASMUS+ funding has created a different mood between government and the sector, but the former issue lies outwith the Scottish Government’s powers, and the latter has not been reflected in budgetary allocations on the scale necessary. These have been more visible in the Welsh Government’s £65M Taith scheme.

The hybrid workshop focused on:

1. Horizon: originally due to address the impact of non-accession, following the UK Government announcement on reassociation, discussion focused on future opportunities                                                         
2. ERASMUS+: the costs and their challenges, solutions proposed and obstacles to those solutions; the longer-term risks and issues and the progress of the Welsh scheme
3. European networks: the European Academy, European Association of the Arts Social Science and Humanities, the League of European Research universities, the Guild and CIVIS, and the opportunities for joint working and study these provide
4. The opportunities and limits of alignment as a third country and the practicable Scottish dimension to these
5. The EU staff and student experience and the impact of Brexit on certain sectors, most centrally the performing arts.

The main speakers were Professor Paul Cardwell, Professor of Law and Vice-Dean at King’s College, London, a leading expert on ERASMUS+; Sarah Prescott FLSW, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Edinburgh; and Professor Jeff Sharkey FRSE, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Among the key points made were the massive impact on student mobility of the withdrawal of ERASMUS+, the relatively threadbare funding and outward only opportunities of the replacement Turing Scheme and the critical issues of restriction of movement and costs faced by performing artists in Europe. Musicians, musical tours and the recruitment of Continental students have all been hit particularly hard by recent changes, while the efforts in the Conservatoire sector to create Europe-wide networks and organisations have also been frustrated by the friction created by the new costs and regulations.

Scotland’s answer

The nature and timing of the new Scottish Education Exchange Programme (SEEP) planned to be introduced by the Scottish Government was discussed for the first time in any major forum: its format and timings had only been revealed in a ministerial answer during the week. SEEP’s project and group basis as well as its reach were seen as similar to the Taith scheme, but so far operating on a much smaller scale. There was interest in and support for the pilot and the scheme, but scepticism that it could replace the huge losses in individual student mobility at universities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, let alone address the major personal economic and career benefits enjoyed by ERASMUS+ participants in lifetime salary uplift in the jobs market.

Nonetheless, there was reassuring news that despite weakness at school level, the appetite to study Modern Languages at major providers remains high. A number of specialist schemes were mentioned, and information shared on other possibilities in student and staff mobility, including the joint degrees now being offered across sites in European networks which Scottish HEIs had joined from outside the EU. Reassociation to Horizon was unquestionably seen as a major benefit, and on the whole there was limited optimism for the direction of travel evident in the last twelve months, though mobility for work, collaboration and study was seen as a continuing issue for which no political remedy was currently proposed.

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Scotland-Europe Initiative

This Initiative will examine Scotland’s and the UK’s relations with Europe and the effects of Brexit on our daily life by exploring public policy issues such as trade and investment, energy policy, and migration.

Find out more about the Scotland-Europe Initiative

Professor Murray Pittock MAE FRSE, Pro Vice-Principal at the University of Glasgow spoke at the 5th Scotland-Europe Initiative workshop on Higher Education.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.