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Turing timeline “deeply problematic” as exchange scheme under scrutiny

The funding timeline for the UK’s Turing exchange program is “deeply problematic”, a representative from the University Council of Modern Languages has warned, as legislators say it fails to measure up to the EU’s Erasmus+ scheme.

The Turing scheme was launched by the UK government in 2021 as a replacement to Erasmus+. Photo: Unsplash.

Universities used the last of their remaining Erasmus funding to support students in the 22/23 academic year

James Illingworth, chair of the UCML’s year abroad group, reiterated concerns about how late in the year universities are told how much funding they will receive. Last year, institutions found out in August, leaving students hoping to travel abroad in September struggling to plan ahead.

This year’s funding application round closes one month earlier but universities say this still does not give them enough time to coordinate study abroad placements. In some cases, students are being told to plan for their year abroad as if they will not receive funding, after many institutions did not receive all the money they applied for last year.

“This is at a time when the year abroad has become exponentially more expensive for students who want to go to those European destinations that used to be visa free,” said Illingworth.

“The year abroad has become exponentially more expensive for students”

Many universities used the last of their remaining Erasmus funding to support students in the 2022/23 academic year, but this will not be possible next year. According to Illingworth, this is when the full impact of leaving the EU on modern languages will be seen.

University representatives also told The PIE that uncertainty around the future of Turing makes planning harder, with little transparency around whether the scheme will continue indefinitely. The funding is distributed in one-year grants as opposed to the three-year payments given by Erasmus.

“The students who are going on open days now, we don’t even know if Turing will still exist by the time they go on their year abroad,” Illingworth said.

The Turing scheme was launched by the UK government in 2021 as a replacement to Erasmus+ following Brexit. The program focuses on widening participation and social mobility, offering more funding to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study abroad.

Speaking in the House of Lords on March 30, Lord Davies said that the scheme was failing to do this as “the inability of universities to provide certainty about funding to students only compounds the problems for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, undermining their willingness and ability to pursue opportunities”.

In the same debate, which focused on the financial sustainability of the UK’s higher education system, Baroness Garden described the Turing exchange scheme as a “poor replacement” for Erasmus. Garden noted that inward mobility and staff placements are not supported by the scheme, unlike under Erasmus.

Baroness Donaghy added that the “inadequacy” of Turing funding and uncertainties around Horizon association are creating “a downward trend in the international league tables”, while Lord Leong described the scheme as “more bureaucratic” and “less transparent” than Erasmus. Lord Wallace called for the government to rejoin both Horizon and Erasmus.

Responding on behalf of the government, Baroness Barran, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Education, said Turing has allocated nearly £130 million in grant funds for over 52,000 student placements since 2021.

“We have confirmed funding for continuation in 2024/25, but obviously we then enter a new spending review period,” she said.

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