It is probably time to say as a sector that although we regret the loss of Erasmus, there were some shortcomings in the organisation of the programme; most notably adherence to the traditional student exchange of a full academic year or semester spent at a partner institution in the EU.
It was therefore short on the flexibility that many of today’s students need, leading many to miss out on the benefits of studying abroad.
So, the government’s replacement Turing Scheme should be welcomed by universities as a moment to offer students new forms of study abroad opportunities. The flexibility in the scheme – revealed by the government today – will give many more students the opportunity to embark on periods of work or study abroad; particularly mature learners, and those with part-time jobs or caring responsibilities.
The whole world
It will also provide funding for study in many countries beyond Europe, which previously was only possible for those students who could fund it themselves. Shorter periods abroad, with dedicated staff support, will allow universities to provide tailored programmes for students who would otherwise not have the social or financial capital to experience studying overseas.
For instance, in 2019 my institution managed to find exceptional funding to support a summer programme for 20 University of Liverpool students to attend the University of Georgia at Athens to discover US culture and history. The fully funded programme was designed specifically for students from postcodes with low participation rates in higher education.
Given the right support, the Turing Scheme offers us the prospect of building up more of these types of partnership, as well as reinforcing existing ones, inside and outside of the European Union. Alongside our long-standing association with the University of Georgia, we are keen to seek out new opportunities to expand our options with other US partners, including further short term opportunities. We are also very excited about working with institutions in Japan, where higher education is currently undergoing a wave of internationalisation. Short term Japanese language and culture programmes could be offered to students who would not be able to fund such travel themselves.
The spice of life
Offering a variety of international experiences to our students and developing them as global citizens is hugely important to us as an institution, and the Turing Scheme will enable us to make it a reality at scale for our students. Erasmus at Liverpool, as with many UK other institutions, largely, though not exclusively, funded language students on their compulsory year abroad; the coverage for students from other disciplines was patchier. Modern languages still stand to benefit from the change, however, as they can now be offered the chance to study in a greater range of destinations than mainland Europe.
Of course, we are not turning our back on our European friends and partners. We will continue to work as hard as ever to encourage our students to take the opportunity to learn and work in Europe, and we hope to find the ways and means to welcome many EU students to Liverpool in the years to come.
But if we get this right, institutions will be able to offer short, tailored, Turing-funded programmes for students from a wide variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines. We should, therefore, be ambitious with our expectations from the programme. Only 8 per cent of UK undergraduates took up the chance to study, work or volunteer abroad in 2018–19, which is low compared to international standards. Yes, it is probably the case that the new Erasmus programme, 2021-2027, will have the capacity to offer more flexibility for short term or blended mobility, but we have every incentive now, across the sector, to take advantage of the widening of the offer for a greater number of students, on a much-extended range of outbound opportunities through the Turing Scheme.