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Improvements proposed for UK Turing scheme

The current funding model of the UK’s Turing mobility scheme may be hampering the long-term success of the program, higher education stakeholders have warned.

Stakeholders want two-week visits to be permanently included in the Turing scheme. Photo: pexels

Concerns around the lack of reciprocity in the new mobility scheme persist

And while the new outward mobility program is being praised for the short mobility opportunities it presents and its weighting towards disadvantaged students, improvements could create a more efficient program, they have suggested.

UUKi is calling for the current 12-month project cycle to be shifted to a multi-year funding model.

“We think [that] would better support, not only the Global Britain agenda and the widening participation goals, but students to apply for actual funding so they can have funding confirmed earlier on,” said UUKi head of Global Mobility Policy Charley Robinson.

A new multi-year funding model would make it easier to develop new partnerships, she indicated, speaking at a recent Westminster Higher Education Forum.

“It would be easier for long-term, sustainable and strategic partnership development if we were able to move to multi-year funding model.”

A change in delivery partner from British Council to Capita – a contract which is only running until December next year – is creating uncertainty as well, head of the International Study and Language Institute at the University of Reading David Carter posited.

“Funding is guaranteed by the government for a further three years, but this is a comparatively short period of time in which the plan from an institutional point of view. And the amount of Turing funds to go around may become more scarce as university spend out on their final Erasmus project funding,” he said.

Emphasising that it is a “good thing” that the UK has the Turing scheme, Carter noted that the current process is burdensome.

“Applications can take a lot of time to complete,” he said. “The award funds come too late in the cycle to have much of an impact on student engagement. The application deadlines in April outcomes are known in June, but by June most students have made their plans for the following year.”

“It’s a lot of work to apply. It’s a lot of work to put in practise”

It was a sentiment shared by Robin Mason, pro-vice chancellor (International) at University of Birmingham.

“Boy, it’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to apply. It’s a lot of work to put in practise. And it’s a lot of work for a big team of people across universities, academics who are trying to develop the mobility projects, professional services colleagues who are doing all of the wraparound support and services. It is a lot of work.”

Head of Global Opportunities at Keele University Emma Pearce said, with the institution’s large group of students at £30,000-£35,000 household income, the Turing program’s £25,000 widening participation threshold is “actually, ironically, [limiting] a large number of students”.

“As much as we’ve tried to capture them in our other criteria. [The threshold] has actually made it quite difficult.”

Additionally, with a “huge surge” for summer programs, the funding has been limiting.

“When we were talking to students and they were looking and saying, ‘look, you know, £544 to go to Japan for four weeks, which has got to cover flights and tuition fees, living costs, accommodation. And it just became not feasible’,” she said.

Concerns around the lack of reciprocity in the new mobility scheme persist.

“Creating that generation of global graduates and a global Britain is particularly difficult when a scheme isn’t reciprocal because the lack of reciprocity does bring more difficulties for outbound,” said Pearce.

“Without inbound mobility, you cannot have outbound mobility. So the [widening participation] DfE priorities are admirable but when we take away the reciprocity it makes it much more difficult to achieve on a government level and an institutional level.”

President of ESN UK Iona Murdoch noted the importance of creating an “internationalisation at home bubble”.

“One of the shortfalls of the Turing scheme is we don’t have those [international] students coming to the UK,” she said.

Robinson also said that lifting the exclusion of UK students to access Turing funding to undertake mobility at overseas branch campuses of their home universities could play a role in futher widening participation.

“It’s a nice string in the bow of the Turing scheme that it does now support shorter mobilities of four weeks”

“[Branch campuses] support with removing the language barriers to study, also allow the full cultural immersion in the overseas country, but they also mean that the standards of student support are on a par with those of the home campus,” she detailed.

“It’s a nice string in the bow of the Turing scheme that it does now support shorter mobilities of four weeks, which is absolutely brilliant,” she added.

International Student Mobility manager at Teesside University Alizée Cordes agreed, saying that short four-week programs had been the opportunities students were “particularly interested in”.

“One thing Turing does to influence policies at institutional level is to encourage more use of short mobility options, although I have to say it would be very useful for us if the two-week visits were permanently included in the scheme,” Carter stated.

“We’ve already seen the impact of that on transforming opportunities in demand for students already, but I think there is potential to go a bit further,” Robinson concluded.

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