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Almost twenty years since it was first set up with the help of leading SNP figure Winnie Ewing, her successor as SNP President Ian Hudghton MEP is calling for more to be done to enable young Scots to study abroad through the ERASMUS scheme. Erasmus celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2007.
Over a million and a half students across Europe have taken part in the scheme since its inception in 1987 following an initiative in the European Parliament by then SNP MEP Winnie Ewing. The scheme makes European money available to help students in higher education to spend time abroad as part of their degree course.
But recent studies have shown an ongoing trend for the scheme to be difficult for students from lower income backgrounds to access. Recent figures show that only fourteen per cent of Erasmus students come from lower income backgrounds, and that the majority of participating students report that their parents are of above average economic status in their country.
Commenting, SNP MEP Ian Hudghton called for more to be done to make the scheme accessible to Scots from lower income families:
"I have always been a strong supporter of the Erasmus scheme which has benefited over a million students and thousands of Scots in its twenty year history.
"The challenge now is to make sure that these opportunities are made as available as possible to the widest range of students, and I'm particularly keen to see more young Scots from lower income backgrounds get the chance to study abroad.
"Studies show that many Erasmus students are the first in their families to study abroad and use the opportunity to improve their language skills and get a broader, more rounded higher education. This is good for their personal development and often makes them more attractive to potential employers. But more recently it seems that the number of Scots taking part has been following a downward trend.
"The European Commission has set an ambitious target of three million Erasmus students by 2012. In working towards this goal I would like to see them work with authorities at the national level, including the Scottish Executive, to increase the number of Scots, particularly those from lower income backgrounds, who get the chance to study abroad."
The Erasmus programme was set up by the European Commission in 1987 following an initiative in the Education Committee of the European Parliament, chaired by the then SNP MEP Winnie Ewing. A survey of the socio economic situation of Erasmus students published recently by the European Commission showed that only fourteen per cent of students came from lower income families and many reported financial considerations as restricting factors.
The overall number of Scots participating in the scheme to study abroad declined from 1,117 in 2001/02 to 1,021 in 2004/05, the last year for which figures have been published by UKSEC, the UK agency responsible for the scheme, although there was an increase from 03/04.