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UK: Turing Scheme aims to send 40,000 students abroad in 2021/22

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Funding grants will be confirmed this week for nearly 400 UK institutions and schools who have applied for funding under the new Turing Scheme
  • The programme will operate with funding of £110 million for 2021/22, which will support an estimated 40,000 placements in up to 150 study destinations abroad

The UK’s new Turing Scheme is now poised for launch with an announcement this week that frames the funding and scale of the programme for its inaugural year. The UK Department of Education confirmed programme funding of £110 million (US153 million) and estimates that this will support 40,000 British students to study abroad in in 2021/22. The programme has a global orientation and students may choose from 150 international destinations, including Canada, Japan, and the United States.

The Turing Scheme is now part of the post-Brexit landscape, and it replaces the UK’s participation in the EU’s massive Erasmus+ mobility programme. “At the heart of the Government’s post-Brexit vision is an ambition to create a truly Global Britain where we learn, work, and trade with countries well beyond Europe’s frontiers,” says a Department of Education release. “The Turing Scheme…gives young people the opportunity to benefit from working and studying abroad, while boosting our ties with international partners in the process.”

An initial phase of programme rollout earlier this year saw 412 funding applications filed by institutions and schools across the UK. Of those, 363 were approved, including more than 120 universities. The 40,000 placements that are expected to be funded through the Turing Scheme this year includes 28,000 spots for university students. This compares to the 18,300 Erasmus+ places available to British higher ed students in 2018/19.

Critics have pointed out, however, that those numbers don’t tell the whole story and that the Turing Scheme is not a true replacement for Erasmus+. While it affords students a wider range of choice in terms of destination, the funding supports are focused on travel and living costs and do not cover tuition fees. The Department of Education has said previously that it expects tuition expenses would be waived at host institutions abroad in the context of reciprocal agreements with UK partner-institutions. But concerns remain about what the new model will mean for student participation levels overall, and particularly for students going to European destinations for language study.

Reflecting on the Turing programme design, Rachel Brooks, Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey, says that, “It is far from clear that overseas institutions will be willing to enter into such reciprocal fee-waiving agreements. Universities that already participate in the Erasmus+ programme – in Turkey, Iceland, Norway, Serbia and North Macedonia, as well as the 27 EU nations – are unlikely to want to cover the costs of their students travelling to and living in the UK when they can study in any of the Erasmus+ countries at no extra charge.”

Even so, Turing is explicitly concerned with boosting participation among student cohorts, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and from regions of the UK where participation in Erasmus+ had been historically low. “The chance to work and learn in a country far from home is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. “But until now it has been an opportunity disproportionately enjoyed by those from the most privileged backgrounds. The Turing Scheme has welcomed a breadth of successful applications from schools and colleges across the country, reflecting our determination that the benefits of Global Britain are shared by all.”

Universities UK International Director Vivienne Stern added, “The Turing Scheme will create opportunities for thousands of students from all over the country to gain experience working and studying abroad. We know from the evidence we have collected that students who have such experience tend to do better academically and in employment outcomes – and that this is especially true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

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