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Time to make the most of Turing in Global Britain

Education secretary Gavin Williamson says that Turing is a brilliant replacement for Erasmus+. Louise Nicol sees the potential of the scheme - and sets out what would need to happen to make Turing succeed.
This article is more than 1 year old

Louise Nicol is the Founder and Managing Director of Asia Careers Group

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.

Limited evaluation

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.

10 responses to “Time to make the most of Turing in Global Britain

  1. “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.”

    This completely misses the point of “soft power” and wider economic benefits for local communities due to past and present incoming Erasmus students. Fog in the channel, continent cut off…Brexit bliss. Rally behind the flag… move on, nothing to see here, this is a nice chap…

  2. EU has a large population than UK. Then it is normal that the number of students coming to UK is bigger than the number of UK students going to EU.

    1. It’s also important to note that the Erasmus scheme is divided by (university) population – Spanish students get far less per person to study in the UK (or elsewhere) than UK students get to study in Spain (or elsewhere). So it was not expensive for the UK from that perspective.

      The idea that UK students are less interested in studying abroad is misguided, and honestly disingenuous. As a former Erasmus coordinator at a Red Brick university, I can tell you that that is largely down to the option not being built into degrees, xenophobic academics telling students that they will get a Third if they go (in reality, students who studied abroad were far more likely to get a First), as well as academics constantly pushing the (incorrect) idea that the UK education system is far superior to that of any other country, and ridiculing the idea that going abroad could add any value to a UK student’s education journey. In short, it’s a manufactured problem.

      I now work at an educational institution ‘on the continent’. We have seen interest in an exchange semester in the UK plummet over the past few years, and I would be surprised if any students still want to go to the UK in the coming years. We have partners all over the world, and while it is more expensive to study in places such as New Zealand, Australia, the US, or Canada, those countries speak to the imagination, and are therefore highly popular. South Korea is also very much on the rise (with several of our students opting to take an MSc there, after finishing their UG with us!)

      As for our less intrepid students, we will always have the Republic of Ireland.

  3. Incoming Erasmus students spend that money in the UK, and they provide some international experience to those UK students who do not go abroad, by studying with them.

    At my Russell group university, the ratio incoming/outgoing Erasmus is balanced (in fact slightly more outgoing)

    UK students rely on exchange partnerships to study abroad, and with less European students able to come to the UK without Erasmus, less UK students will be able to go.

    Finally the money set aside for Turing (for 1 year only, no guarantee for later) is no more than was distributed for Erasmus, except now to cover the whole world, with more expensive destinations (the most popular destination is the US).

      1. Grammar point made, but the substantive point still stands. Turing gives EU partner universities no incentive to participate, as they will have to pay the full costs themselves. Potential partners in Europe are already covered by Erasmus+. How many universities on the continent are wealthy enough to shell out extra money to send their students to the UK? If they want an English-language placement, Ireland will be the obvious option.

  4. Interesting article. Erasmus is about to get even more expensive (I think I read somewhere that the next budget for it is some 40% larger).
    Damned expensive.

    1. Part of the reason for the rise in costs is to address some of the concerns raised in this article: that study abroad (inc. Erasmus+) is most easily and often accessed by those who are comfortably middle-income or better off. So the rise in costs is actually a positive development if you are concerned about participation and equality of opportunity.

  5. “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.”

    Yet the article doesn’t mention how the Turing scheme will address this.

  6. UK students have always been less motivated at getting out overseas – and the opportunities have been there. So this new scheme is an opportunity to address that, and despite the lack of mutuality in the new programme, we must support and make Turing work (as Louise suggests) so that it receives continued gov. support.

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