88: The Turing Scheme – a replacement to Erasmus
In December 2020, the UK government announced that following Brexit, the UK would no longer participate in the Erasmus+ programme and that it would be replaced by the Turing Scheme. This came as a shock to many, after the Prime Minister originally stated that there would be no threat to the Erasmus+ programme following the UK’s decision to leave the EU. However, the UK government concluded that continued participation in the programme was offered by the EU on terms unfavourable to the UK taxpayer.
The Erasmus programme was initially launched to enable students to study in another European country, or ‘partner country’, whilst benefitting from a grant and tuition fee waiver. The extended Erasmus+ programme, launched in 2014, was open to apprentices, volunteers, staff and youth exchanges, and jobseekers. Erasmus+ was utilised by around 15,000 British students each year in order to travel, study and work with universities in Europe for intervals in their degree programmes. The UK’s Turing Scheme, which opened in March 2021, is intended to provide broadly the same opportunities, through organisational funding and government grants.
The decision to discontinue Erasmus+ in the UK was primarily made to refocus education towards ‘Global Britain’ and to provide better value for money. The government has allocated £110 million for the first year of the Turing Scheme, with the intention of allowing up to 35,000 UK students access to elite US institutions and other countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. There is no funding available for incoming students.
What has changed?
In order to expand its outreach and widen access to groups underrepresented in international placements, there is additional financial support available to participants from disadvantaged backgrounds. For participants in Higher Education, the Turing Scheme defines a disadvantaged background as students with an annual household income of £25,000 per year, receiving Universal Credit or income-related benefits, or who have caring responsibilities, who are care leavers or refugees. The Turing Scheme however, does not offer placements to teaching staff and youth workers, unlike Erasmus+.
The Turing Scheme will cater for more placements globally, with one of the key objectives focusing on a ‘Global Britain’. The Erasmus+ programme is primarily for placements in European countries, with only 3% of UK higher education placements typically being those outside Europe. (That has led some to conclude that it would have been a welcome addition to, rather than replacement of, Erasmus+.)
The Turing Scheme application guide states that university students on placements between four and eight weeks will receive cost of living grants of up to £136 per week, and those on longer placements up to £380 per month. However, the exact amount will depend on whether the country visited falls within the low, medium or high cost of living destinations. Disadvantaged students can receive higher grants of up to £163.50 per week or, on longer placements, £490 per month. The Turing Scheme claims to target more students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which did not previously benefit from the Erasmus+ programme, with a focus on expanding access to opportunity.
Unlike the Erasmus+ programme, only disadvantaged students will be eligible for the reimbursement of travel expenses under the Turing Scheme. This is up to £480 for European countries, or up to £1,360 for countries further afield, staggered by their distance in kilometres.
Under the Erasmus+ programme, students studying abroad did not have to pay tuition fees for that period, as the programme was reciprocal for EU students studying in the UK. This is not the case under the Turing Scheme The Turing Scheme funding is intended to go towards living costs, and travel expenses for disadvantaged students only.
As part of the Erasmus+ programme, higher education providers were able to exchange a relatively short agreement under the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education. With no such framework in place under the Turing Scheme, higher education bodies will be under pressure to strike individually negotiated deals with European (and non-European) Universities.
Crucially, the government has confirmed that the Turing Scheme will not reciprocate fees for incoming students. This will undoubtably create barriers in forming exchange agreements between international institutions, particularly those with developing countries due to lack of funding and the requirements of the UK immigration system. In order for the fee-waiver exchange to work as with Erasmus+, both parties will want to ensure there is reciprocity in terms of opportunities for students, and financial and educational benefits.
What does this mean for the future of study abroad?
For many, the potential lack of certainty surrounding the waiving of tuition fees may be a reason for hesitancy in signing up. The attraction under the Erasmus+ programme was largely that University students were able to effectively extend their degree programme, without an additional £9,000 (or previously £3,000) fee.
In any event, higher education bodies will now need to work harder to secure independent contracts with all institutions outside of the UK, some of which will understandably be less inclined to do so due to the administrative burden, as well as the uncertainty of securing funding for incoming exchange students. Expected fee waivers may continue to benefit UK students under the Turing Scheme, however, with no financial assistance for incoming students, it is likely that UK institutions will not be as attractive a prospect for international students. This is aside from the additional costs for visas and healthcare cover that European students will face following Brexit.
The situation is slightly different in Northern Ireland, where students are still able to participate in Erasmus+. The Scottish government has stated its intention to continue its participation in the programme, although it is hindered by its legal inability to enter into international agreements in its own right.
One unintended consequence may be a further reduction in UK students studying Modern Languages degree courses: if study abroad programmes are less attainable, a major incentive of a placement abroad could be lost.
Applications for 2021-22 have now closed and funding is due to be announced in July 2021. This does not give universities and students sufficient time to arrange placements, particularly in circumstances abroad where the first term of the academic year begins in August. A second round of applications may open, subject to the funding available following the first round. It remains to be seen how the UK government decides to proceed with funding and applications for subsequent years.