One of the more egregious impacts of Brexit, for students, was the UK’s exodus from Erasmus – an EU-led scheme which enabled people attending universities to study abroad for a portion of the academic year.
Last December, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said the government “decided not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme” after the two sides were unable to agree on the cost of Britain’s continued membership.
And so Boris Johnson said the UK would instead establish its own scheme with “the best universities in the world”, to be named after the British computing pioneer Alan Turing.
Today, the government has announced that 40,000 students will be able to participate in the scheme and has celebrated this opportunity for “international collaboration”. Critics say it pales in comparison to the EU’s alternative. How do they actually compare?
How many students will be able to go abroad?
According to the DfE’s estimates, the 40,000 total will include 28,000 placements for university students in 2021-22, more than the 18,300 placements that took place under the Erasmus scheme in the 2018-19 academic year.
But speaking to The Guardian, Paul James Cardwell, a professor at City Law School, University of London said the number of people who will go will be lower than the number universities have bid for. He said: “All opportunities to study abroad are welcome, but we need to be clear about how many students will actually go abroad, which will probably be much lower than the numbers that have been bid for.
“We also don’t know whether these placements have been arranged and confirmed and, crucially, how much funding will be allocated to each participant.”
What is the geographical scope of the programme?
With 150 countries available to pick from, the new scheme has a wider geographical scope than that of Erasmus. However, many of the countries listed by the DfE have border entry restrictions because of the Covid pandemic which will impact students wishing to travel.
Of course, this will also affect the Erasmus scheme and indeed international travel in any form.
Due to Brexit, students will also have to apply for a visa to travel to European countries.
Which students will be eligible and how will they be funded?
The government have hailed their new scheme as helping disadvantaged students because they will be eligible for funding to cover extra expenses such as visas and passports. In a statement, Education secretary Gavin Williamson implied that the Erasmus scheme was “disproportionately enjoyed by those from the most privileged backgrounds.”
The Turing Scheme, on the other hand, “has welcomed a breadth of successful applications from schools and colleges across the country, reflecting our determination that the benefits of Global Britain are shared by all,” in Williamson’s book.
According to the BBC, Erasmus pays an additional £103 (€120) per month - a total of £420 (€490) per month for a poorer student going to France for six months in the current academic year.
The Turing scheme would pay £445 (€519) per month to the same student, but also contribute to travel costs depending on how far the student is travelling.
However, Matt Western, the shadow universities minister disagreed that this represented a better deal because the scheme does not cover tuition fees. He told The Guardian: “The Conservatives’ rhetoric on the Turing scheme does not match the reality. Ministers are claiming to be targeting disadvantaged students but their scheme provides no support to cover tuition fees, which will make accessing this incredible opportunity impossible for many students.
“Even if students are able to travel to the host country during the pandemic, if the individual funding does not cover the costs associated with travel, then the number of actual departures could be quite low.
“For all destinations, the tuition fee costs – which were waived under Erasmus – would not be covered under Turing, and these can be extremely high. Many students going within Europe, for example those on language or dual degree programmes, would normally depart under Erasmus, so it will be interesting to compare the level of funding they actually receive.”
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan told the Today programme they hope universities involved in the scheme “waive” the fees. “The way it’ll work is our universities will partner with another university and they will waive the fees because they will be exchanging students,” she said in March.
The BBC reports that Erasmus offers placements for teaching and college staff and youth workers as well, but the Turing scheme will not.
What has the reaction been like?
Unsurprisingly, those who championed Brexit support the scheme. David Bannerman, a former Conservative MEP, for instance, said the Turning scheme “beats” Erasmus.
@brokenbottleboy Erasmus clearly needed overhaul, too much bureaucracy undermining sovereignty of our education so… https://t.co/vH339ADXPC
— Winston Smith - #1984 (@Winston Smith - #1984)
UK’s new Turing Scheme beats EU’s Erasmus in opportunities for British students. https://t.co/8LQXkxeUs0
— David C Bannerman (@David C Bannerman)
We could have set the Turing scheme up while we were in the EU. Alongside Erasmus.
Others disagreed that the scheme will give people more opportunities because boasting about paying for student visas is a little bizarre given that Brits didn’t need visas to travel to Europe before Brexit and not confirming they will pay tuition fees would make things difficult for many students:
Imagine writing the following paragraph with a straight face: https://t.co/ewHb1Au5hW