It promised the world, but has it delivered?
The UK's post-Brexit replacement for Erasmus+ promised the world to British students, quite literally.
Called the Turing Scheme, it was supposed to open up opportunities across the globe, far beyond Europe, with the central aim of improving social mobility.
So, a year since it began, how is the scheme performing and how does it compare to the Erasmus+ student exchange programme it replaced?
What is the Turing Scheme?
The UK government calls the Turing Scheme "a global mobility programme" for students at a variety of institutions – universities, schools and colleges.
It was launched in March 2021 to replace Erasmus+ and the first Turing students went abroad in September last year.
London has guaranteed funding for the scheme until 2025.
How does Erasmus work?
Erasmus, the EU's flagship programme, has facilitated and funded university and school exchanges, as well as work placements since 1987.
The most recent version is called Erasmus+, which was launched in 2014 and encapsulates all the EU’s education, training, youth and sports programmes.
The reciprocal nature of Erasmus+ meant that fee differences between universities taking part were ignored, which made the prospect of studying in the UK, where fees are high, “attractive” for foreign students, according to Professor Seán Hand, the University of Warwick’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Europe.
How is the Turing Scheme different from Erasmus?
Unlike Erasmus+, the Turing Scheme is not set up to create reciprocal arrangements.
This means that, in effect, European students are unable to come to the UK for a study placement unless the swap is arranged by individual universities outside of the scheme.
Prof Hand predicts that the number of European students coming to the UK will fall over time, given they will now be expected to pay much higher fees than before.
For British students, there are also several notable differences between Turing and its European predecessor.
Firstly, unlike Erasmus+, which was mostly centred around Europe, Turing offers funding to students to go further afield.
Prof Hand said Turing has been advertised as a “worldwide scheme” and that “for many students, this bigger map can be attractive, and the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, etc have been popular early destinations”.
Secondly, the UK Government promised Turing would “improve social mobility targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas”.
Prof Hand explains that “the assertion was made that Erasmus+ reflected the non-discretionary social and economic habits of middle-class students and that Turing would take this into account with a top-up amount of money, a shorter duration, and a quota for widening access places”.
So, how much money do Turing students receive compared to Erasmus+?
That depends on where you are going and for how long. Locations are divided based on the cost of living, into high, medium and low-cost categories.
So, if you travel to a designated "high-cost" place, such as Australia, Canada or Switzerland, you’ll receive more money than for a "medium-cost" place, such as France or Sweden.
In concrete terms, a student going to a high-cost country for between four and eight weeks will receive £136 (€157) per week, or £380 (€439) per month for more than eight weeks. Under Erasmus, Sweden and Scandinavian countries were placed in the "high-cost" category.
There is also a top-up available for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. A student from a disadvantaged background going to a high-cost country for between four and eight weeks will receive £163.50 (€189.10) per week, or £490 (€566) per month if they were to be based there for more than eight weeks.
Universities can also apply for extra help with additional costs, such as visas and passports, however, there are restrictions upon which institutions will receive this extra funding, so not every student classed as "disadvantaged" will be able to access this help.
However, unlike Erasmus+, which sets out budgets for six or seven years at a time, Turing participants must apply for funding on an annual basis, meaning that the number of students an institution can send abroad each year will fluctuate – this is causing “uncertainty” and in some cases “disappointment” for students and staff, according to Prof Hand, who are unable to plan more than a few months ahead.
How’s the process working for universities?
The University of Warwick only found out about their Turing funding in mid-August – just weeks before their students are supposed to head abroad, according to Prof Hand.
He said Warwick received its “headline figures”, the total amount they’d receive, in mid-July.
The Department for Education refutes this and says "every successful university had its grant funding confirmed in June".
Prof Hand says that they're now going through the process, like other similar institutions, to determine how to distribute the funds, but the last-minute nature of this information is causing a lot of uncertainty for students.
For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, this slow timeline is likely to impact whether they will be able to take up placements, given the lengthy visa process which requires money and proof of accommodation in the receiving country upfront.
Prof Hand said that “the first years of any new scheme are when it creates its own new norms” but that the annual nature of applying for funding has produced more work and uncertainty compared to Erasmus+, a scheme the government decided to leave, despite being “established, liked, supported and productive”.
How is Turing working for students?
On the ground, some students are reporting that they still do not know if they’ll receive Turing funding, or how much, despite having already had to apply for visas and arrange flights for placements beginning this month — and this uncertainty is putting some plans in jeopardy.
Victoria Ruck, a modern languages and cultures student at the University of Durham, is travelling to Spain for an internship at the start of September, yet has still not received confirmation of funding, which combined with visa paperwork is causing "quite a lot of tension”.
Ruck plans to study in Italy after her internship, therefore decided to not apply for a Spanish visa to cut down on costs, meaning she is limited to just 90 days in Spain.
Unlike before Brexit, students with a British passport must apply for a long-term visa to live in a Schengen state for more than 90 days in a 180-day period, an often-costly process requiring proof of economic solvency, which many students do not have.
She said: “There are so many things you don’t consider — the flights, connections, the cost of visas, and I feel like the Turing funding is an extra bit of help.
“From my perspective, it’s only being offered to people from working-class backgrounds, which is great because we need it the most, but also, everyone’s background is different, and not everyone is going to have parents that will help them out with funds.”
So, one year on, how is the Turing Scheme doing?
The UK government says an estimated 38,000 students are set to go abroad, of whom around 20,000 are disadvantaged students from schools, colleges and universities.
Compared to the 18,300 Erasmus+ placements for British students in 2018-19, Turing is projected to enable more students to go abroad.
But Prof Hand said the length of placements can vary dramatically from two weeks to twelve months, with many students doing shorter placements.
It is difficult, therefore, to compare these provisional Turing results to Erasmus+, which was built primarily to suit an academic term or year.
Prof Hand also worries that the additional costs of studying in Europe that didn’t exist before Brexit are not fully addressed by the scheme. They include visa appointments and costs, the need to demonstrate you have enough money to live in the country – sometimes requiring proof of thousands of euros in a bank account –, and the fact entitlement to free healthcare has changed.
While the government says there is funding available for this, in reality not all applications for help will be approved, due to the tight restrictions on which institutions can apply, meaning some students who cannot afford visa costs will be left disappointed, said Prof Hand.
“Such real issues must work against the general aim of widening access,” he added.