June 18, 2021

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International Student Exchange Will Be ‘More Inclusive’ Than Erasmus

4 min read

A new international student exchange scheme will provide more opportunities for U.S. students and be more inclusive than its predecessor, according to the U.K.’s universities minister.

The E.U.’s long-running Erasmus program gave students the chance to study abroad, as well as running an exchange scheme for staff.

But the U.K. withdrew from the scheme programme as part of the Brexit deal, despite a promise to remain by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition from academics and students alike.

Now the U.K. has launched its replacement, the Turing Scheme, named after the mathematician and father of computer science, Alan Turing.

A key element of the new scheme is providing opportunities for U.K. students to study all over the world, and for students from all over the world to study in the U.K., according to universities minister Michelle Donelan.

While around 16,500 U.K. students took part in Erasmus every year, the vast majority of exchanges were within Europe. The Turing scheme aims to have a broader coverage.

“It is global in nature,” she said. “Over 97{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of Erasmus was within Europe, whereas we have created a scheme that is much more inclusive and provides more opportunities for a younger generation, both in the U.K. and those students that will be coming into the U.K.

“We really want to provide those opportunities for all, including to America, where we have enjoyed a strong relationship over the years.

“We want to continue to cement that with a younger generation, both in terms of our students going over to America but also welcoming American students here to the U.K.”

To some extent, the U.K. is pushing at an open door. Numerous student exchanges took place outside of Erasmus, including with the U.S., the third largest source of overseas students in the U.K.

The difference is, that this time taxpayers money will be involved, and as U.K. universities waive their fees under the Turing scheme, so overseas universities will be expected to waive theirs for U.K. students.

“We’re funding our students to go elsewhere so we think it is right that other countries would contribute towards their students,” Ms Donelan said.

One big advantage for the scheme is that the U.K. is already one of the most popular destinations for international students, the result of a combination of the reputation of its leading universities and the status of English as a global language.

Even so, Ms Donelan said there had already been “a great deal” of interest in the scheme from U.S. universities.

“We are home to more of the top 100 universities than the whole of the E.U. combined and that is a massive incentive,” she said.

“We already share that special and strong relationship and I’m sure that many institutions would value cementing and continuing those partnerships that they have developed over the years. There is a great incentive for American universities to participate.

“It is hugely valuable for American students to come over to the U.K. and likewise for U.K. students to go over to America.”

The U.K. also hopes to make the Turing scheme more inclusive than its predecessor.

Students in higher education from advantaged backgrounds were at least 1.7 times more likely to take part in Erasmus than those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Ms Donelan said.

Under Turing, students will be able to get additional support for travel and passports, while placements can be as short as four weeks, after research showed a longer minimum was a barrier to those from more deprived backgrounds.

Turing will also fund initial visits to check on accessibility issues for students with disabilities.

“One of the key differences is that we’re focusing on widening participation and access,” said Ms Donelan. “At the heart of our scheme is inclusivity.”

While the government has not set targets for exchanges with individual countries, overall it aims to fund 35,000 U.K. students travelling overseas, with 20,000 of them participating in higher education, at a cost of around £100m ($136m).

However, unlike Erasmus, the Turing scheme will not include staff exchanges, a major source of disappointment to the higher education sector, which has seen numerous benefits from the flow of knowledge and skills between countries.

“We have decided to focus that money on student exchanges, where there is the majority of the evidence of the benefits, but also making sure that we can then utilise that money to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Ms Donelan said.

“These are life-changing experiences where the evidence shows can totally alter their opportunities later on.

“The proof will be in the pudding but we very confident that this will shift the dial in terms of access and participation.”