Replacing Erasmus+, the UK’s Turing Scheme will fund exclusively outbound mobility for students studying at UK universities. Over 120 universities across the country will take part, providing opportunities for 40,000 students, of which 48% will come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
According to the House of Commons Library, in 2019/20 there were 2.46 million students at UK higher education institutions, meaning the fund will support study abroad opportunities for just over 1.6% of students.
So far, universities appear to have professed themselves pleased with the results as all university applications – 139 in total – were accepted.
“We are delighted with the outcomes of the Turing Scheme, the funding will offer Teesside University students from all backgrounds and programs the opportunity to take part in new and life-changing international summer programs,” said Alizée Cordes, international student mobility manager at Teeside University.
“The international summer programs are part of Teesside’s ongoing internationalisation strategy, focusing on providing supported opportunities for our UK students to gain international experience, even if this is not a standard part of their course.”
Despite the enthusiasm about the scheme getting off the ground, the fact remains that the pandemic will likely prevent many of the projects going ahead. And while universities commend the opportunities it will bring students from disadvantaged backgrounds, they are also telling students that international study options are unlikely to happen.
“If Covid-19 persists into Autumn 2021 and beyond we will consider funding alternative contingency arrangements”
While the Turing Scheme itself has said that “if Covid-19 persists into Autumn 2021 and beyond we will consider funding alternative contingency arrangements”, universities have applied for funding for destinations such as China and Australia that have been consistently closed almost since the start of the pandemic.
Mimicking non-government funded study abroad programs, there is also a clear preference among university applicants for English-speaking destinations. The US, Canada and Australia are all in the top five most popular destinations, along with China and France.
This preference caused concern even before the release of the list, having been debated in the House of Lords over fears that the Scheme’s pretensions to having a global reach “only confirms a bias that is already there” and that “non-English speaking countries are the ones that really need targeting”.
“Non-English speaking countries are the one that really need targeting”
The popularity of destinations such as China and Japan however, do mirror slight shifts in language learning at university level in the UK.
As a University Council of Modern Languages report has noted, between 2012 and 2018, university places for European languages have declined, with German, French and Russian applications falling by 30%.
This coincided with a growth for Asian languages, particularly Japanese and Korean, which grew by 71% and more than 300% respectively. Chinese increased by 5%.
That said, these numbers are also deceptive due to the popularity of Asian languages growing from very low bases. While the percentages suggest an explosion of interest in Korean, for example, the number of students studying it at university level in the UK grew from around 50 in 2012 to 175 in 2018.
Among the top 20 destinations, eight were located in Asia, six in Europe, three in North America and two in Oceania. Among the less traditional destinations, the Scheme will provide the chance for 18 students to visit Vanuatu, 16 to Tonga, 13 to Saudi Arabia, 6 to Bermuda and 5 to Mongolia.
Among school applications for the Turing Scheme, Erasmus favourites France and Spain were the top destinations, taking in 22.78% and 17.49% of programs, followed by China, Germany and the US.
Almost 4% of applications were to take students to Botswana, which with Italy, Japan, Thailand and Iceland rounded out the top 10.
Further Education and Vocational Education Training showed and even stronger preference for continuing to send students to Erasmus-participating countries. Spain alone accounted for almost a fifth of applications and all but two of the top 10 countries were within Europe.
The French embassy in the UK called the news “encouraging”, particularly noting the popularity of the country among FE/VET training and schools.
“France secures a strategic position as the second non-English-speaking country and the first European destination [among HE institutions],” they said.
“Another interesting figure is the one for ‘further education, vocational and educational training’ grants’ since France ranks second with 8,89% of the number of granted scholarships. It is also relevant to note that for school grants, France ranks as the first destination country.”