THE European Commission is to explore ways for Scotland and Wales to stay in its ground breaking Erasmus student exchange programme, The National can reveal.
It follows a letter signed by more than 140 MEPs to commission president Ursula von der Leyen to find out how arrangements could be put in place as well as talks between the commission and the Scottish Government.
German MEP Terry Reintke, Vice-President of the Greens / EFA group in the European Parliament was the initiator of the letter to Von Der Leyen which was signed by MEPs across the EU.
It was co-sponsored by German MEP David McAllister - an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Von Der Leyen is also close to Merkel having previously served in her government as defence minister.
The letter was also backed by senior Polish MEP Radek Sikorski, an ally of the former President of the European Council Donald Tusk.
Reintke told The National today: "Every young European should get the chance to participate in an exchange programme. It not only helps to understand the host country, but also to experience first-hand European values and ideas.
"I also made this experience during my Erasmus exchange. My time studying in Edinburgh was one of the most wonderful and formative periods in my life.”
It comes as senior members of the Commission held talks with Scottish higher education minister Richard Lochhead about Erasmus.
A move to rejoin the programme would be "extremely welcome", Irish TD Neale Richmond - a fierce critic of Brexit - told The National last month.
The MEPs' letter was also sent to the EU's commissioner for education and young people Mariya Gabriel.
Under the heading "Scotland and Wales future in the Erasmus Programme" the letter stated:
"Dear Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, dear Commissioner Mariya Gabriel,
"Following the end of the transition period and the conclusion of the negotiations with the United Kingdom, we are writing to you regarding the following matter: As voiced by many on both sides of the Channel, we are deeply saddened and concerned to have learnt that the Government of the United Kingdom decided to leave the Erasmus programme.
"The Erasmus programme has proven to have a significant impact on young people's lives in Europe - not only on their language, cultural and personal skills, but also on their motivation to strengthen a peaceful and solidary European society.
We would like to address the following questions as we recognise a pronounced aspiration coming from Scotland and Wales to enable students and young professionals to continue participating in this programme:
• Do you see a pathway to extend the benefits of Erasmus Programme to students and young professionals in Scotland and Wales?
• Would you consider Scotland and Wales as entities as mentioned in the inter institutional agreement text on the future regulation for the Erasmus Programme?
• Have you been in contact with the respective above mentioned governments and, if not, would you be willing to further purse this matter in a direct exchange?
We are looking forward to receiving clarifications on this matter and thank you in advance for your answer."
The National revealed last month that Nicola Sturgeon's government was to consider ways to stay in the Erasmus scheme.
Lochhead said at the time the UK Government’s decision to walk away from Erasmus - used by more than 2,000 Scottish students and young people annually - was a huge blow.
“I will be writing to the UK Government to express my profound disappointment at this decision and their plans for a watered down alternative to the programme – all of which has been pushed through irrespective of views of the Devolved Administrations.
“This is simply unacceptable and we are looking at alternative options.”
The First Minister had previously condemned Boris Johnson's decision to pull out of the Erasmus scheme - which is open to non EU members.
She tweeted: "Ending UK participation in Erasmus - an initiative that has expanded opportunities and horizons for so many young people - is cultural vandalism by the UK Government."
Johnson opted not to continue with UK membership of the Erasmus scheme despite previously saying the UK would stay in it.
The PM said the UK would establish its own scheme with “the best universities in the world”, to be named after the British computing pioneer Alan Turing.
The omission of Erasmus from the UK-EU deal ended a scheme that had offered student exchanges as well as school links, work experience and apprenticeships across Europe since 1987. Under the latest version of the scheme, Erasmus+, around 200,000 people have taken part including around 15,000 British university students each year.
In general, the following non-EU members - or third countries - take part in the university exchange part of the programme: Republic of North Macedonia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Serbia
In January last year, Johnson assured MPs there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme”.
But confirming the end of membership, he said in December: “On Erasmus, it was a tough decision.”
He claimed the UK “loses out” financially because of the larger number of EU nationals coming to study in the UK.
“So what we are doing is producing a UK scheme for students to go around the world,” the Prime Minister said.
“It will be called the Turing scheme, named after Alan Turing, so students will have the opportunity not just to go to European universities but to go to the best universities in the world.
"Because we want our young people to experience the immense intellectual stimulation of Europe but also of the whole world.”
The Republic of Ireland has previously committed to fund Northern Ireland's continued membership of the Erasmus scheme.
A spokesman for the European Commission told The National a response to the MEPs' letter would be made in due course.