Recent statements about leaving the Erasmus scheme have made the UK decision sound apocalyptic. The Independent claims that “the government is failing Britain’s young people” and Judith Bunting MEP, asserts that “this decision is every bit as mindless as it is devastating.”
It’s time to stop the hand-wringing and take a reality check that recognises the scheme’s weaknesses and looks at how to make its successor more suited to meeting today’s challenges.
UK students were not the primary beneficiaries of Erasmus. In the last five years twice the number of EU students participated in Erasmus coming into the UK, compared to UK students choosing to study in the EU. This represented a significant cost to the UK which was borne by the UK taxpayer as part of the UK’s EU budgetary contribution.
Weaknesses of Erasmus+
The respective wealth of EU countries and the levels of participation in higher education throughout Europe compared, for example, to some Commonwealth nations makes it incongruous to subsidise EU students to study in the UK.
Even within the European community issues of equity and social justice raised their head when the scheme has been evaluated. A 2008 study showed that there were “still important socio-economic barriers to the take-up of the programme” and a 2010 study indicated that UK participants were “white and middle-class, and are academic high-achievers, compared to the total UK student population.”
The programme has never captured sufficient traction with UK students and this stark reality means that the emphasis on Erasmus is misplaced for a country that has embarked on a mission to become Global Britain. The resistance is part of a wider and more troubling trend suggesting that some universities have not adapted to the new situation, including a group who propose to privilege EU students by continuing to give them preferential tuition fee rates post-Brexit. These policies discriminate against other international students and reinforce the notion of the UK as being western-centric and particularly exploitative of students from Asia.
Unlike Erasmus Turing plays well to developments globally and the “Rise of the Asian Century”, with 20 million students in higher education and over 7,000 universities, ASEAN countries are home to a staggering ten per cent of the world’s youth. Southeast Asian higher education has developed regional frameworks including the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework, the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework for Higher Education and the ASEAN Credit Transfer System, and discussions are ongoing towards developing an ASEAN Educational Exchange programme the “ASEAN Student Pass” to increase mobility within ASEAN. This should provide numerous opportunities for UK universities to partner with ASEAN institutions and employers for the new Turing Scheme.
The actual impact of Erasmus on the prospects of students has never been accurately measured and/or quantified other than who and how many students take part. The Higher Education Academy and Universities UK international undertook a study in 2015, Academic perspectives on the outcomes of outward student mobility, but the primary research was a survey which elicited a response rate of only 56 individuals. While the secondary research was to be commended, basing anything on this sample is not particularly robust or representative.
An earlier study Gone, International: mobile students and their outcomes based on the 2012-13 graduating cohort showed more promise using HESA data and results from DLHE. However, the report concludes “The Go International programme should therefore have more comprehensive data to create a more complete picture of the trends of outward student mobility in the future.” A far more innovative, technology enabled methodology is necessary to measure the impact of international outward mobility and the impact of the new Turing Scheme.
Better data on graduate outcomes from involvement with Erasmus+ might even have enabled universities to mount a far better case for preserving the links to the scheme. Powerful data on soft power, links to business and future trade would have given policy makers and higher education sector insiders a great deal to ponder. But that battle is over and it is time to move on with the benefits of hindsight and a real sense of purpose to build a better future.
Making Turing fly
My advice for making Turing a successful programme that has a far larger impact than its Erasmus predecessor is:
- Monitor the graduate outcomes of Turing on a longitudinal basis so we can measure its benefit not just as a snapshot six or twelve months from graduation but over an individual’s lifetime
- Be global in principle but trade oriented in focus because the rise of the Asian Century means giving our students as much opportunity to travel to Asia and learn Asian languages/culture as engaging with Europe and North America.
- Ensure more industry and employer engagement which will require universities to understand their international graduate destinations and form alliances and partnerships with international companies that can host students on work placements overseas. With robust country specific data on international graduate outcomes institutions can focus employer engagement where it will have the most impact.
- Attribute value to soft power because global goodwill is essential for the UK’s future economic success particularly during and following the global pandemic. Mapping the careers of those that take part in Turing will put the UK in the driving seat when it comes to having alumni with a wide network of contacts with the authority to invest and trade.
- Demonstrate excellence through international employability by showing the value to an individual’s future career if they take part in Turing. Evidencing the outcomes from the scheme must be part of the hearts and minds approach to ensuring that UK students are motivated to take part in outward mobility.
I look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the Department of Education, Department of International Trade and Universities UK International to make the Turing Scheme successful and to give as many students as possible the opportunity to both live and work overseas to enrich their higher education experience and future career success.