On 24 December 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would no longer participate in the Erasmus+ programme, and it would be replaced by the Turing Scheme. I was deeply disappointed by this. As a beneficiary of the Erasmus scheme, I know first hand the huge benefits of taking part.
Yesterday (20th April), I led a debate in Westminster Hall on the scope of the Turing Scheme, which will 'replace' the Erasmus+ programme. Read on to find my speech.
"As one of the first beneficiaries of the Erasmus programme, this issue is close to my heart. I spent a year in Italy, where I not only improved my Italian, but made lifelong friends. I played rugby at Benetton Treviso and expanded my understanding of different cultures, not just European ones. As an undergraduate at Exeter University, the opportunity to study at Ca’ Foscari at the University of Venice was a huge opportunity for a comprehensive schoolgirl from Llanelli.
Over the past 34 years, Erasmus has given an opportunity to more than 250,000 students from the UK, not including those who have benefited from work placements through Erasmus+. Although it is a predominantly European Union scheme, placements are offered in 190 countries worldwide, whereas Turing is an exclusively inward-focused scheme, so where does that leave inward students? The loss of income from incoming students has been estimated by Universities UK to be £243 million per annum. How can we retain the links that have been built up and nurtured over many years when we go it alone?
In the absence of reciprocal funding, we will also be relying on students at European partner universities to come to the UK, despite the lack of financial support for them. What happens to them? Arrangements collapse or organisations introduce fees for our students. The Minister needs to address whether the costs will be covered for our students. The belief that countries will continue to want to come to the UK when their students already benefit from being part of Erasmus with no extra barriers is naive of the Government, and it will ultimately harm the future of students looking to study abroad. Understandably, the Government have talked up the benefits of the Turing scheme, but when it comes down to it, there will be less funding available for students to study abroad. Instead of £125 million a year as part of a seven-year funding cycle through Erasmus+, UK Universities have access to only £100 million in a single-year cycle.
The application process is very different from Erasmus. The added uncertainty around being selected for funding as a result of a more detailed application will prove a barrier for less advantaged students. If someone does not know whether they will get the funding for their year abroad, they are less likely to apply for a course that requires study in another country. It will be uncompetitive, with relatively limited funding available in comparison with Erasmus. Students from less privileged backgrounds will be penalised.
I think about my son and the many students studying foreign languages at A-level now, who are planning and looking ahead to go to university. What does the future hold for them? The Government have failed to address the issue of visas for students wanting to study and work abroad. Who will be responsible for the associated fees for them? Is there a limit on the number of students who will come to the UK through Turing, and will that ultimately affect UK students wanting to take a year abroad?
The timing of the announcement caused consternation for many. The announcement of the new scheme so late last year came too late for applications from those wanting to study on their year abroad in 2021. The funding model that the Government have put in place is not fit for purpose. The short-sightedness of a single-year system makes recruitment to modern foreign language degrees and other subjects that offer a year abroad really difficult. As a linguist and a modern foreign languages graduate, I feel for the students. It is an area where we have issues in recruitment and we have to look at that.
"...I do not want to be all gloom and doom about the Turing scheme. I want the opportunities that were there for me to be there for all people in the United Kingdom, and especially young people. There could be advantages to it, specifically in the flexibility that the scheme offers, which some institutions have welcomed. However, to provide the certainty that universities and students need, the Minister must address the issues raised by many I have spoken to. There is a pressing need for a resolution that allows for certainty.
I will bring up a few issues raised with me. How soon will it be known whether Turing can be extended beyond its first pilot year? A longer timeframe may help the programme to establish more sustainable international partnerships. Will reciprocity ultimately be considered as a feature for the Turing scheme? Will staff exchanges be considered for any future iterations or Turing? How can global Britain leverage its new international trade connections to help cement Turing mobility partnerships? There is a core of colleges with experience of Erasmus projects and partnerships in Europe but not always further afield. Other colleges are also working worldwide. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively."
The Erasmus programme was launched in 1987. It enabled students to study in another European country – or a ‘partner country’ elsewhere in the world – by funding their grants and waiving their tuition fees. In 2014, the programme became Erasmus+ and expanded to include apprentices, volunteers, staff and youth exchanges, and jobseekers. Erasmus+ has 34 full members, including several non-EU nations such as Norway and Iceland, as well as more than 160 partner Countries. Around 4 Million students have taken part in the programme.
Brexit did not necessarily mean that the UK had to leave the Erasmus+ programme. It could have continued as a programme country or partner country.
The government have said that the Turing scheme will be global, and participation will be open to students of all subjects and nationalities studying at UK universities, colleges, and schools. While Erasmus+ provided support for education, training, youth opportunities, and sport, the Turing Scheme will have a narrower focus on education.
On 12 March 2021, the Turing Scheme opened for applications from institutions.
The Turing Scheme does not include funding for participants to come to the UK as part of the Scheme – incoming students’ costs are expected to be covered by their own governments or institutions. This has prompted concern that it will lead to a decrease in inbound exchange students and the loss of benefits that they bring to the UK.
Find out more about the Turing Scheme here.
In response to the announcement of the Turing Scheme, the Welsh Government have announced a new international learning exchange programme, which will enable learners and staff, both from Wales and those who come to study or work in Wales, to continue to benefit from international exchanges in a similar way to the opportunities that flowed from Erasmus+.
Read the full debate transcript here.