Union attacks ‘shameful’ decision to outsource Turing scheme

Capita to take on running of UK student exchange programme from British Council

December 9, 2021
Department for Education, Westminster, United Kingdom
Source: iStock

A union has expressed alarm after it emerged that the British Council would be stripped of its role running the UK’s Turing student exchange scheme and replaced by the outsourcing firm Capita.

The Guardian reported that the council – the UK’s international educational and cultural organisation – had been undercut by Capita in a tendering process.

The news came just a few months into the operation of the Turing scheme, which has an annual budget of £110 million and is seeking to send 28,000 students from more than 120 universities overseas this year.

The Turing scheme replaced the UK’s involvement in the European Union’s Erasmus+ exchange, which had been administered in the UK by the British Council since 2014. It had helped run the predecessor Erasmus programme since 2007.

The new contract, which runs from March 2022 to the end of 2023, is for the delivery of the Turing scheme across the four nations of the UK.

Capita will be assisted by organisations including the Association of Colleges, the Sutton Trust, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, The Guardian reported.

But Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said Capita had a “shocking record of failure” on a range of other government contracts, including army recruitment and NHS administration.

“Outsourcing the scheme to Capita…is a terrible decision from the Department for Education which will further diminish the quality of student exchange programmes,” Dr Grady said.

“The British Council has important expertise in the running of student exchanges, and cutting it out of the process in favour of a profit-making private company is shameful.

“The Turing scheme is still finding its feet, and the priority must be delivering quality for students, not a race to the bottom.”

The loss of the Turing tender will be another blow to the British Council, which was forced to close 20 offices around the world as part of a restructuring programme triggered by cuts to the UK overseas aid budget and the loss of income from English language exams during the pandemic.

A spokeswoman for the organisation said that it would “work closely with Capita to ensure a smooth transition”.

“We are proud to have launched the Turing scheme in February 2021 and supported £98.5 million of grant funding in the inaugural year of the Turing scheme, including 41,024 participants, of which 48 per cent are identified as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds,” the spokeswoman said.

“The British Council will continue to engage with partners, students and young people to strengthen educational and cultural exchange with the UK, through our work in education, English and the arts.”

A Capita spokesman said: “Following a competitive procurement process, we are delighted to have won this contract to administer grants for the Turing scheme. We look forward to working with the Department for Education and our partners to enable students from all backgrounds to access global work and education opportunities.”


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