As Britain bids goodbye to the EU, studying abroad is set to change.
As of January 1 2021, the United Kingdom has officially exited the European Union. Despite Boris Johnson promising that Brexit would not affect our participation in Erasmus+, an agreement on the costs of Britain’s continued participation in the scheme was not reached, leading to us withdrawing from the mobility programme that sends over 16,000 British students and young people to partner institutions every year.
In its place, the Prime Minister has established the Turing Scheme. The scheme, said to be worth £100 million, is set to start in September and will provide funding for around 35,000 British students. Johnson states that Turing will be more inclusive by targeting young people from underprivileged backgrounds, as well as being more global than the previous scheme. Yet there are already doubts about the scheme and whether it will work as smoothly as planned.
Many British citizens criticised the Erasmus+ mobility scheme as a waste of taxpayer money, with all of the funding going towards middle-class students. The comments from the Prime Minister about the new scheme targeting disadvantaged young people reflect this viewpoint. The majority of Erasmus+ funding in the United Kingdom, however, actually goes to vocational training and apprenticeships, adult education, volunteering and youth work schemes. Further to this, not all university students are middle-class and for many, Erasmus+ funding provides a rare opportunity to go abroad.
As the Turing scheme is set to allow students to go to universities further afield, this may raise a further problem. Getting to countries outside of the European Union is often more expensive, and tuition fees in countries such as the United States are usually a lot higher than those in countries such as Germany, France, Italy or Spain – countries that most British students go to on Erasmus+. The bursaries provided by the new Turing scheme are likely to be a similar price to those provided by Erasmus+, and may therefore have to stretch to cover all of these extra costs in addition to the price of living. In turn, this could have the adverse effect of discouraging those from poorer backgrounds from signing up for the scheme.
The unilateral nature of the Turing Scheme may also pose a problem for the United Kingdom. Students from the European Union may be discouraged from studying at British universities if they have no funding to support them. There is a decreasing incentive to come to the United Kingdom following Brexit, as students will have to pay for visas and healthcare cover as well as our expensive tuition fees. Fewer international students coming to the United Kingdom means that British students will miss out on the opportunity to learn from their European peers who often bring fresh perspectives to the classroom. They also tend to spend more money in our economy, contributing an estimated £440 million in 2018.
On the other hand, this has to be balanced with some of the advantages of the new scheme. A unilateral scheme where fewer foreign students attend British universities may be of benefit, as student accommodation will be more readily available for home students, which is particularly beneficial for first-year students who sometimes have to find their own housing. Additionally, the global nature of the new scheme can give opportunities to go abroad for more students. Typically, Erasmus+ mobility mainly benefits languages students, whereas students of other faculties who do not speak a different language miss out. The Turing Scheme offers opportunities to go to Anglophone countries, allowing students from any department to go abroad. Furthermore, less than half of outgoing British students went abroad via the Erasmus+ programme, so a majority of students will not miss out on the chance to go abroad.
Though the new Turing Scheme starts this year, the United Kingdom will still be a participant of the Erasmus+ scheme until the end of its current phase in 2022. There may be some teething problems as new contracts will have to be negotiated between universities, while the end of the freedom of movement may create difficulties in going abroad. However, if these problems are smoothed out, and if the scheme is implemented to maximise the advantages of going abroad, there is every chance that Turing will be a success.