The government emphasised that the new scheme would “improve social mobility, targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which did not previously have many students benefiting from Erasmus+”, as well as opening up the possibility for exchanges beyond Europe.
University students from disadvantaged backgrounds will “receive a maximum of £490 per month towards living costs”, around £28 more than the living costs offered by Erasmus+, as well as “other forms of additional funding to offset the cost of passports, visas and insurance”.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the launch was a “landmark step in delivering on our promise to level up a truly global Britain, strengthening our ties across the world and providing students with the skills they need to thrive.”
The prime minister Boris Johnson called the Turing Scheme “a truly global program with every country in the world eligible to partner with UK universities, schools and colleges”.
“The scheme seeks to help students of all income groups from across the country experience fantastic education opportunities in any country they choose”
“It is also levelling up in action, as the scheme seeks to help students of all income groups from across the country experience fantastic education opportunities in any country they choose,” he said.
Celia Partridge, assistant director partnerships and mobility at UUKi told The PIE News that they were pleased to see applications open and welcomed the global nature of the scheme, the additional support for disadvantaged students and for disabled students, and the flexibility in permitting shorter-term mobility.
“This is just the first year of the scheme, and given the short window for applications and the speed at which the Scheme has been launched, we know that universities will now be facing time pressures in securing agreements,” she said.
“We are working with member universities to feedback any difficulties and we are looking to government to confirm funding for future years as soon as possible.”
As part of the launch, education ministers are visiting the devolved nations – who have been particularly critical of leaving Erasmus+ – “to highlight the advantages of the Turing scheme and ensure wider participation for all students across the UK”.
The universities minister Michelle Donelan will personally visit Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities to “discuss the bidding process including how to demonstrate widening access to more disadvantaged students as part of the application process”.
Northern Ireland alone has been able to remain in Erasmus+ after an arrangement was made with the Republic of Ireland.
It will now be seen whether the lack of reciprocity in the new scheme, which only funds outbound students, will present a hurdle in developing partnerships.
A briefing paper from the House of Commons Library published in February noted that a “possible consequence of the decision not to fund inward mobilities is that while the government expects host countries to waive tuition fees for UK students, it is unclear how this will work in practice”.
David Carter, head of the International Study and Language Institute at the University of Reading, further raised concerns including whether the budget was really large enough to support worldwide mobility and what the implications are for modern language learning in the UK.
Indeed, a £110 million budget for 35,000 exchanges works out at an average of £3,143 per exchange.
However, as UUKi director Vivienne Stern has pointed out, “only 8% of UK undergraduate students undertook a period of study, work or volunteering abroad in 2018/19 – and less than half of them did so via the Erasmus program”.
“Only 8% of UK undergraduate students undertook a period of study, work or volunteering abroad in 2018/19”
In 2019, 30,501 students and trainees came to the UK as part of 684 UK Erasmus+ projects, representing a total grant amount of €144.69 million, while only 18,305 UK students and trainees went abroad through Erasmus+.
Stephan Geifes, director of the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation at the DAAD, said that while German universities were saddened that the UK was no longer participating in Erasmus+, “they are very interested in continuing their often long-standing cooperations with their partners in the UK or even starting new ones”.
“Should the newly launched Turing Programme offer bilateral exchanges with tuition fee waivers on the UK side, this would be very welcome for German universities,” he told The PIE.
“Until now Erasmus+ students have not had to pay tuition fees for their stay in the UK.”
Other European stakeholders believe there will now be less cooperation with UK institutions in terms of exchanges as for many the nature of the Turing Scheme doesn’t lend itself to being a high priority in European countries. However, one particular matter of concern is how it will impact student mobility in the EU.
“There are so many mobile students going to the UK,” said Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association, although he added that many also headed to the UK outside of Erasmus+.
“Before Brexit 28% of students went to Britain”
“And we haven’t seen where the students [will] go. If they don’t do mobility, that’s out biggest fear, because before Brexit 28% of students went to Britain.
“Logistically speaking, you can’t just spread them out over Europe. There are too many. So the fear is that means there’ll just be a very substantial number of students that would have been mobile and now won’t be.”