Turing Scheme: half of participants ‘disadvantaged students’, government says

Labour says the scheme, which does not offer funding for overseas tuition fees, makes “accessing this incredible opportunity impossible for many students”.

The Department for Education has hailed the imminent launch of the Turing Scheme, which will support 40,000 UK students to study overseas next year, with the education secretary highlighting the number from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Of that headline figure, 48% of participating students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, the DfE said today (Wednesday 4 August).

Indicative DfE figures suggest that Turing will support 28,000 placements for university students. The most recent figure from Erasmus+ suggests just over 18,000 UK students studied abroad with the EU scheme in 2018/19.

The figure of 40,000 is higher than the 35,000 mooted by ministers when announcing the scheme. More than 120 universities – and more than 200 schools and colleges – will receive grants from the £110 million Turing Scheme fund, the UK replacement for participation in the Erasmus scheme.

The Turing Scheme uses a “broad basket of measures” to define disadvantaged students in higher education: those with an annual household income of £25,000 or less, those in receipt of Universal Credit, care leavers, those with caring responsibilities, estranged students and refugees and asylum seekers.

But the Labour party said the government rhetoric did not match the reality – Turing participants receive no government grant help with overseas tuition fees, which made “accessing this incredible opportunity impossible for many students”, it said.

The Turing Scheme will fund study trips to more than 150 nations if all go ahead next year. University Business has asked the DfE for the average length of the trips – the scheme will fund placements as short as four weeks, considerably shorter than the Erasmus’s three-month minimum.

Subjecting the Turing Scheme to future spending decisions will create financial uncertainty for organisations and young people. It’s being reduced to the status of Erasmus minus
– Matt Western, Labour

The DfE said the figures from the Turing launch delivered the government’s “post-Brexit vision” and helped fulfil its ambition of creating “a truly Global Britain”. Decisions on which applications to fund were considered by external assessors, with final funding decisions resting with the DfE and the devolved administrations.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The chance to work and learn in a country far from home is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – which broadens minds, sharpens skills and improves outcomes. But until now it has been an opportunity disproportionately enjoyed by those from the most privileged backgrounds.”

He said the scheme strengthened UK partnerships “with the finest institutions across the globe” and “helps a new generation grasp opportunities beyond Europe’s borders”.

[U]ntil now it has been an opportunity disproportionately enjoyed by those from the most privileged backgrounds
– Gavin Williamson, education secretary

But Matt Western, Labour shadow universities minister, said the replacement for the EU study scheme was of “the status of Erasmus minus” because it did not receive a multi-year funding settlement.

Said Western: “The Conservatives’ rhetoric on the Turing Scheme does not match the reality. Ministers are claiming to be targeting disadvantaged students, but their scheme provides no support to cover tuition fees which will make accessing this incredible opportunity impossible for many students.

“Boris Johnson has yet again created confusion for students and chaos for providers, by breaking his promise to keep the UK in the Erasmus+ programme. Subjecting the Turing Scheme to future spending decisions will create financial uncertainty for organisations and young people. It’s being reduced to the status of Erasmus minus.

“Ministers must ensure the Turing Scheme maintains the UK’s status as an attractive study destination for international students, protecting and promoting our global standing.”

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said: “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. We want more students from a wider range of backgrounds to get these sorts of opportunities and believe, that if they do, the UK economy will benefit in the long run.”

Assessors considered bids against a scoring system with three metrics: how prospective projects will deliver value for taxpayers, ‘level up’ access and opportunity, and further “Global Britain”. Each criterion accounts for 50%, 30% and 20% of the total assessment, respectively. Proposals must also be “new or additional to existing practices within the sending organisation”, the DfE stipulated.

Funding is open to students registered at universities in the UK and British Overseas Territories and enrolled on full- or part-time degree-level or tertiary-level qualifications. Students do not need to be UK nationals to be eligible.

Universities will gain £315 per Turing participant for the first 100 participants and £180 per student above that number.

Grants to cover living costs will vary depending on the sector, length of placement and destination country. Students on placements that last longer than eight weeks in “high cost” countries will attract £380 per month, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds receiving 30% bigger grants. Disadvantaged students will receive funding to cover the cost of visas, passports, and health insurance. For those with SEND, the scheme will fund up to 100% of costs that are “directly related to their additional needs”. Travel grants will cover at least 70% of costs.

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