Doubts raised over UK’s alternative to Erasmus+

Turing scheme will not cover tuition fees, travel costs to the UK or staff exchanges, leaving UK universities to negotiate fee waivers

January 4, 2021
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There are fears that the UK’s alternative to Erasmus+ will struggle to truly replace the European Union’s exchange scheme because it lacks the money to cover tuition fees, support students coming to the UK or fund the staff fact-finding trips required to design successful partnerships.

Despite coming to a long-awaited trade and cooperation agreement with the EU just before Christmas, the UK government decided to quit Erasmus+ over what it saw as unacceptably high costs, and announced its own £100 million-a-year programme, which aims to enable 35,000 students to go abroad annually.

The Turing scheme, named after pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, is not specifically focused on Europe, but the entire world, in order to boost “Global Britain’s ties with international partners”.

But UK universities now face a number of hurdles maintaining existing European exchanges and striking up new ones further afield to compensate for the loss of Erasmus+.

Erasmus+ waives fees for students on exchanges, meaning studying abroad should cost no more than staying at home. It also provides a modest grant to help cover travel and subsistence.

But the Turing scheme will not contribute towards the costs of students coming to the UK, a Department for Education spokeswoman confirmed. This is a “dangerous” approach to take, according to Kostis Giannidis, president of the Erasmus Student Network. “Exchange is by nature reciprocal,” he said.

Nor will it fund the tuition fees of UK students going abroad, or European students coming to the UK. This leaves UK universities needing to strike fee waiver agreements with overseas partners, which may be financially tricky if there are big price discrepancies.

“Elite universities in the US are not just going to accept UK students not paying a fee,” said Paul James Cardwell, a law professor at the University of Strathclyde, who has spent much of his career organising student exchange programmes. “The Turing scheme isn’t going to pay astronomical tuition fees for a semester or a year.”

And, on the flip side, European universities and governments may be unwilling to pay UK international fees, which are on the whole much higher than those on the Continent. “There’s a big difference between French and UK universities regarding fees,” cautioned Manuel Tunon de Lara, president of France’s Conference of University Presidents.

Since the UK’s decision to pull out of Erasmus+, a number of French students have enquired about a stint in the Republic of Ireland instead, he said. Fewer French students would go to the UK as a result, he predicted.

The Turing scheme’s £100 million, split between 35,000 UK students, would leave about £2,800 each. This sum is roughly comparable with the grant that Erasmus+ students receive.

But unlike Erasmus+, the scheme will not cover staff exchanges to partner institutions. These visits are often essential to allow universities to make sure their students will be well taken care of, explained Professor Cardwell.

In addition, if UK students fly further afield to the US, Australia or Asia, they will need a much bigger travel budget, he pointed out.

Professor Cardwell predicted that, in the end, much of the Turing scheme money will end up funding European exchanges that would have happened under Erasmus+ anyway, because these links are already established and embedded in academic programmes.

“The push to global Britain is going to be a very very big challenge,” he said.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Doubts over UK’s Erasmus+ alternative

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