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UK out of Erasmus+; announces new Turing scheme as replacement

The UK has confirmed that its citizens will no longer be able to participate in the broad EU mobility scheme for students, teaching staff, apprentices and volunteers that is Erasmus+; instead, the UK confirmed it will commit £100m to a replacement mobility scheme named Turing.

The new mobility scheme will be named after Alan Turing, whose statue is in London's Paddington area. Photo: Flickr/Matt Brown

“UUK welcomes clarity on the UK’s continued participation in Horizon Europe – this is fantastic news"

“We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom,” announced education secretary, Gavin Williamson on December 26 shortly after an EU-UK trade deal was agreed.

The scheme will be named after British mathematician and code breaker Alan Turing and it is expected to enable 35,000 students to spend time abroad, launching September 2021.

According to press reports, the UK decided not to remain in Erasmus+ because of cost. PM Boris Johnson noted that the UK accepted far more incoming students than there were British students using the scheme as outbound participants.

“The issue really was that the UK is a massive net contributor to the continent’s higher-education economy because over the last decades we had so many EU nationals, which has been a wonderful thing, but our arrangements mean the UK exchequer more or less loses out on the deal,” Johnson said. “Erasmus was also extremely expensive.”

“The issue really was that the UK is a massive net contributor to the continent’s higher-education economy”

There was good news however that the UK will remain part of Horizon Europe, the successor scheme to the research and innovation mobility scheme Horizon 2020.

Vivienne Stern, director at Universities UK International, said, “UUK welcomes clarity on the UK’s continued participation in Horizon Europe – this is fantastic news for the scientific community on both sides of the channel, which will allow universities in all regions of the UK to grow the scale and impact of international research collaboration, innovation and partnerships.”

She continued, “While the announcement that the UK will now not be participating in Erasmus+ is disappointing, we are pleased that the Prime Minister has committed to a new UK programme to fund global mobility.

“We now ask the UK government to quickly provide clarity on this Erasmus+ domestic alternative, and that it be ambitious and fully funded.”

Early indications based on the press announcements are that the Turing scheme will be open to schools as well as colleges and universities.

“These opportunities will benefit both our students and our employers, as well as strengthening our ties with partners across the world,” said Williamson.

UK organisations will be invited to bid into the scheme in early 2021. To meet delivery timescales, universities, colleges and schools are encouraged to begin preparation with international partners as soon as possible, noted the official announcement.

Writing on Twitter, professor Paul James Cardwell from University of Strathclyde shared his thoughts on why a new Erasmus+ replacement may not be able to replicate the breadth and scale of opportunities which were available.

He observed that the Turing scheme’s £100m seems destined to fund outbound opportunities only. ” If existing Erasmus relationships in Europe are to be ‘converted’ to Turing ones, there is less incentive for EU unis to continue unless their students going to the UK can self-fund or get money from the govt (unlikely?),” he suggested.

Cardwell added that negotiating individual mobility deals with institutions can be cumbersome or lengthy, based on his own experience.

There will be an impact on inbound EU numbers via the Erasmus scheme – according to the BBC, in 2017 16,561 UK students participated in Erasmus, while 31,727 EU nationals came to the UK via the scheme.

EU member states recently provisionally agreed to the new Erasmus+ 2021-27 scheme, which will aim to reach 10 million people over the next seven years, with an expanded budget of more than €26 billion.

Like the outline of the Turing scheme, the next generation Erasmus+ scheme is aimed at a broader spectrum of participant.

Students in higher, general, vocational, adult and non-formal education will have access to the program, as well as small scale and grassroots organisations.

A House of Lords report into Brexit’s threat to Erasmus involvement was published in 2019.

At the time, the report noted, “If the government is not willing or able to secure association to these programmes, alternative UK funding schemes would be needed. However, it would be a formidable challenge to try to replicate at a national level the substantial benefits of the EU’s programmes for research and innovation and international mobility.”

An All Party Parliamentary Group on Erasmus+ was also formed early in 2020 aimed at ensuring the UK could remain in the mobility scheme.

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