Why the Turing scheme is no replacement for Erasmus

The government's new Turing student-exchange scheme lacks both the scope and generosity of Erasmus, says this campaigner

David Gow

Brexit: Why the Turing student-exchange scheme isn't as good as Erasmus

If you want to gauge the reality of Global Britain, the UK government's much-touted post-Brexit strategy for being "open, outward-looking and confident on the world stage," look no further than its Turing student-exchange scheme.

Details of the £105 million programme, released on the same day as the Meghan and Harry TV interview with Oprah and hence almost entirely ignored, confirm the worst fears of those of us who bitterly regret Boris Johnson's decision to pull out of the EU's Erasmus+ scheme.

For Scots, in particular, the tawdry particulars of the Turing scheme confirm that it is a "wee timorous beastie", lacking both scope and generosity. It falls far short of what Michelle Donelan, universities minister, has said it will do: "Open up the globe to our young people."

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She says Turing will ensure that students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can benefit from studying and working abroad, and that's a key reason – along with cost – why the UK abandoned Erasmus+. Yes, some disadvantaged students will get support for their travel costs and a (smaller) living allowance but little else.

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What's more, we now know that Turing will not cover apprentices/trainees not affiliated with an FE college, youth workers, volunteers (as in the EU Solidarity Corps), HE/FE staff, adult learners and the like. In 2019, 8,106 British trainees studied overseas, while over 12,000 came here. That's 20,000 who will simply lose out.

And the new UK scheme will cover at most 35,000 students from HE, FE and schools, with the lion's share (£60 million) going to universities. It's more than likely that UK ministers, having excoriated Erasmus+ for being elitist against all the evidence, are handing benefits overwhelmingly to better-off students from the Russell Group of unis. Turing, moreover, is a one-way scheme: there's no place for our fellow Europeans.

The EU scheme's budget will rise 80 per cent in the next seven years to a combined total of €26.2 billion (£22.5 billion) – an enormous increase largely designed to help young people from low-income households. By 2020 more than 10 million had taken part in the scheme. By 2027 more than 14 million are expected to have benefited.

Scotland is home to two of the top three sending institutions under Erasmus+: the Universities of Edinburgh (number 1) and Glasgow (number 3). More than 2,000 students from Scotland, more proportionally than from anywhere else in the UK, take part each year. The Scottish government, backed by civil society, including us in the European Movement in Scotland (EMiS), is urging the EU and UK governments to let Scotland rejoin Erasmus+.

So far, the answer from Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, is "nein". Scotland, as a nation within the UK, cannot take part on its own. EMiS is campaigning for a rethink in Brussels and London. We will sustain this campaign up to the Scottish Parliament elections in May and well beyond.

David Gow is an executive committee member at the European Movement in Scotland (EMiS), a former education correspondent and school governor

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