Post-Brexit Turing Scheme gives students £22m less than EU’s Erasmus programme

Students say the Turing Scheme is plagued with problems and leaves them facing uncertainty even after they begin study, writes Elizabeth Mcbride.

The application of Birmingham based Newman University to the Turing Scheme was turned down down, despite 99.5% of its intake coming from state schools. Photo: Elliot Brown (Flickr).

Young Brits hoping to study or train abroad this academic year got £22m less from the UK’s new Brexit-era ‘Turing Scheme’ than was given out by the EU Erasmus programme it replaced.

Figures for the 2022/23 academic year show £106m was given out by the UK government, compared with €144m (£128m) under the UK’s last grant from the EU-funded Erasmus+ scheme in 2020.

The Turing Scheme figure is £7m up from its 2021/22 launch year, but the amount given specifically to higher education (rather than further and vocational education, or schools) has dropped by £5m.

Not everyone who applies to Turing will receive cash, but students must secure university placements to study abroad before they can bid for the money. One told openDemocracy they “wouldn’t have signed up, due to the financial uncertainty” if a year abroad hadn’t been compulsory for their course.

Although not all students under Erasmus+ received money, they were typically told this in advance because of the scheme’s longer funding cycles. By contrast, some students told openDemocracy that they had only been informed of their Turing funding status after they had actually begun their study abroad, leaving them in difficult financial positions.

A Department for Education spokesperson claimed: “Every successful university had its grant funding confirmed in early July so they could give certainty to students travelling from September.” But students who spoke to us had their funding confirmed months later than this – some were still waiting in September and October.

Unlike Erasmus+, which sets out budgets for six or seven years, Turing participant universities apply for funding annually, so the number of students an institution can send abroad fluctuates every year.

The University of Wolverhampton’s funding in 2022 fell by 30% compared to 2021, and was 60% less than under Erasmus+ in 2020. Disclosing the figures in a Freedom of Information response, the university told us that funding competition this year would be “tough”.

The scheme reserves 52% of its places for disadvantaged students. However, these students, like others, have had to commit to costly placements, with application deadlines normally in spring at the latest, before funding was confirmed.

Durham University sent its students emails warning them that they should ascertain they are able to survive with a reduced student loan of just £2,940 before committing to a year abroad, while Bristol University students claim they received similar messages.

This amount is the cap placed on maintenance loans when a student is doing a work placement, including unpaid internships, and is not a recipient of Turing funding. Paradoxically, students become eligible for the full ‘overseas’ maintenance loan of £11,116 if they are accepted for Turing funding, which comes on top of this.

One student described how unhelpful the system was: “I kept getting told that I should ensure that I would be able to survive on a reduced student loan of under £3,000 for the year and that Turing was not guaranteed,” the student said. “I wouldn’t be able to [survive on that amount]. But a year abroad was compulsory for my language degree. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have signed up.”

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We welcome the Turing Scheme as an important mobility programme but, like other universities, we have been clear that it needs improving.” Durham University did not respond to a request for comment.

While Turing is structured to prioritise disadvantaged students, it is universities that make applications – not individual students. This year Turing rejected 19 higher education institutions’ applications, meaning not a single one of their students was eligible for cash. Among those turned down, despite receiving funding from the scheme last year, was Newman University, which has one of the highest proportions of students from state schools in the UK: 99.5% of entrants in 2020/21.

Unlike Erasmus+, the Turing Scheme does not cover tuition costs, with host universities expected to waive fees.

But this does not always happen. One student at Bristol University who receives Turing funding for their living costs said they had received inadequate funding for tuition in what was a compulsory language placement.

“I chose my placement because it was cheaper,” they said, “not because it was the best choice for my education. The university has given us a one-off payment to help with the tuition costs, but the course costs £400 more.”

A spokesperson for Bristol University said: “We are working closely with affected students, and we hope these issues can be resolved so we, and other universities, can offer the best possible study abroad experience for our students.”

Some students’ problems can be laid at the door of their universities, though. Another student, Rosie Susana, who studies at Birmingham University, said admin issues meant that in December she had still not received any money for this year, despite falling into the ‘disadvantaged’ category. She says these late payments have left her reliant on financial help from her host university in Canada.

“They also plan to split the payments into three: one at the start, one in the middle, and one at the end of the year,” she said.

“But I don’t need the money at the end, I need it at the start when I’m in the country. If someone doesn’t have the savings or the family money to pay for them, what will they do?”

The University of Birmingham did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2021 the government outsourced the Turing Scheme to Capita Plc, which did not respond to a request for comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Turing Scheme creates life-changing opportunities for UK students to take up placements in countries not just in Europe but all over the world, and this year the scheme will support over 38,000 students to travel to over 150 destinations across the globe, from Canada to Japan.”

This article originally appeared on Open Democracy and is republished with attribution under a Creative Commons license.