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We need to learn the lessons from Erasmus+ to make sure Turing is an improvement

Since the Brexit deal came into force at the beginning of the year, the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus+ programme. Instead, the government is setting up the Turing scheme to fund students to study abroad. Professor Kevin Ibeh, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and Professor of Marketing and International Business, examines the Turing scheme and areas the government needs to turn its attention to in this blog. 

Professor Kevin Ibeh

For the UK to remain a global player, we must be able to provide our citizens with an appreciation of the wider world and help the world to understand us. To an extent, the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme helped to facilitate this by offering thousands of students the chance to study in Europe and beyond, while giving Europeans the chance to study in Britain.

Since the Brexit deal came into force at the beginning of the year, the UK is no longer part of the Erasmus+ programme. Instead, the government is setting up the Turing scheme to fund students to study abroad.

If this is to succeed, it is important to learn the lessons from Erasmus+, both regarding what worked and what didn’t. To improve on the opportunities that the Erasmus+ programme provided for both outgoing and incoming students, the government must turn its attention to a number of issues.

First, the forthcoming spending review should increase the programme’s budget, which currently stands at £100 million for its first year. This is a creditable sum, given the adverse economic climate, but the government should be aiming to match the nearly £130 million that the UK received in Erasmus+ grants in 2019. More important still, the Turing scheme needs a multi-year funding settlement.

Second, while the Turing scheme has a welcome focus on increasing participation among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, this could be hindered by a lack of reciprocal fee waivers.

Under Erasmus+, students paid fees to their home institution but not their overseas university, and they received a grant for living expenses. The Turing scheme provides UK students studying overseas only with grants towards travel and living expenses; tuition fee waivers are not explicitly addressed.

This raises concerns as to how students from disadvantaged backgrounds will self-finance, as well as the impact on recruitment into modern language degrees. There is a need for reciprocal fee-waiver arrangements. The Turing scheme should also consider adopting measures used by Erasmus+ to target participants from disadvantaged backgrounds; such as providing an additional €120 per month for disadvantaged students studying abroad.

Under Erasmus+, approximately 30,000 European students visited the UK each year without having to pay UK universities’ tuition fees. The government should consider replicating this under the Turing scheme as a way of attracting overseas students to the UK. At present, the Turing scheme only applies to UK students; taking measures to boost two-way exchange would enhance its appeal.

Consideration should also be given to reducing the red tape for overseas students. Those coming to study for more than six months should be exempt from having to pay for a visa, the NHS surcharge and providing certified proof of English language ability, which they didn’t have to do under Erasmus+.

If these requirements are not removed, other Anglophone countries are likely to experience a surge in Erasmus+ students at the UKs expense. Such a reduced flow of inbound students would lessen the substantial social, cultural, economic and soft power benefits that international students bring to UK higher education institutions and wider society. In 2018, their economic contribution alone was put at £440m.

The government has declared that the Turing scheme will provide students with opportunities to study in a larger number of countries than Erasmus+ did. Even though Erasmus+ covers more than one hundred countries, including many outside the EU, it would clearly be positive if the Turing scheme could be more global still.

Achieving such an ambition will require greater investment, though. Striking out on its own and expanding the number of countries involved in its international higher education exchange programme is likely to bring the UK additional administrative costs.

Lastly, I hope that the Turing scheme will provide opportunities for university staff and other young people to teach, train, learn or volunteer abroad, as is the case with Erasmus+. Everyone connected with universities can benefit from travelling abroad to develop professional practice and build relationships with international peers.

The UK government’s commitment to and continuing investment in an international mobility programme for students is highly welcome. The Turing scheme arguably has the potential to match the Erasmus+ scheme, but appropriate refinements are needed to make this promise a reality. I’d strongly encourage the government to work with universities to achieve this end.

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