On Christmas Eve 2020 the UK government and the EU finally reached a Brexit agreement, the conditions of which will have impacts on university students all around the EU.
One of the major takeaways from the deal is that the UK will not continue to take part in the Erasmus study abroad scheme. The Erasmus scheme was based on mutual student exchange, with participants given additional funding to study abroad in EU countries, along with a reduced tuition fee rate. In 2017, 16,561 UK students studied abroad using Erasmus, and 31,727 EU students came to the UK.
Understandably, the decision to leave the Erasmus programme has upset numerous parties. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, Adam Tickell, said
“Leaving Erasmus is a real sadness, a scheme whose original foundations were laid at Sussex. Over the years the Erasmus programme transformed the lives of thousands of young people.”
However, the end of Erasmus does not mean the end of studying abroad. The UK government have announced a new scheme to replace Erasmus, The Turing Scheme, named after mathamatician Alan Turing whose work led to the breaking of the Nazi’s Enigma code. Launching in September 2021, the scheme will provide funding for 35,000 UK students (university, school, and college students) to study abroad worldwide, and also provide grants for working and volunteering abroad. Unlike the rest of the countries in the UK, Northern Ireland will however continue to use Erasmus as the Irish government has agreed to fund it.
The Turing scheme aims to target students from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve social mobility and give more students an opportunity to study abroad. Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, describes the scheme as being “truly international” and “delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom”.
UK institutions will have to bid to be part of the scheme, if successful they will receive funding to implement the scheme, and students will get study abroad grants. Whilst the scheme is global, Commonwealth countries and US universities are the priority.
The government is confident that existing partnerships with European universities can be changed into Turing partnerships, but this has been met with doubt. Unlike the Erasmus scheme, the Turing scheme will only fund British students studying abroad and will not provide funding for students from other countries to study abroad in the UK. The lack of funding for European students could lead to a reduction in the number of European students studying in the UK, as if they chose to study in another EU country they would receive the Erasmus grant.
Boris Johnson has defended leaving Erasmus in favour of the Turing scheme, stating “[the government] wants our young people to experience the immense intellectual stimulation of Europe but also of the whole world”.
The director of Universities UK International, echoes this: “The new Turing scheme is a fantastic development and will provide global opportunities for up to 35,000 UK students to study and work abroad.” “Evidence shows that students who have international experience tend to do better academically and in employment, and the benefits are greatest for those who are least advantaged.”
The government has yet to reveal the full details of the scheme, but the logistics have already been met with criticisms from professors and universities. Professor Paul James Cardwell from the University of Strathclyde raises the objection that setting up the scheme to run in 2021 will prove to be a challenge for students, especially language students due to go on Erasmus placements, as setting up partnerships can take months due to bureaucratic red tape.
Funding has only been confirmed for the first year of the Turing scheme, further funding is dependent on the success. Further details are expected to be announced over the coming months.
By Clarissa Ducie