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Reasons to give the Turing Scheme a chance

  • 19 January 2021
  • By Vivienne Stern

This blog was kindly contributed by Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi). Previously on the HEPI website, Vivienne contributed the second chapter to the essay collection, ‘UK Universities and China’ which was published in July 2020. You can find Vivienne on Twitter @viviennestern.

Professor David Carter’s blog Five questions to ask about the Turing Scheme is a good read. Professor Carter asks important questions, but it misses a fundamental point. For now, at least, the door to Erasmus participation has closed.

For most of the last year we were able to debate the merits of a national scheme versus Erasmus. As Professor Carter points out, Erasmus is about more than mobility; its breadth and scale provide distinct advantages over a national scheme. That is why I argued, consistently, in favour of participation in the programme.

That period is over. I wasn’t surprised, in the context of the extraordinary economic pressures facing the UK that, in the end, the UK Government decided that the price tag for Erasmus participation was too high. As far as I understand it, there was no appetite for compromise in this area on the EU side at any stage in the negotiations.

As Professor Carter points out, therefore, those who were following negotiations understood that participation in Erasmus was becoming increasingly unlikely. For this reason, UUKi worked with colleagues in universities across the UK to develop proposals for a national alternative, should we need one. Our proposals, developed by a working group chaired by Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, drawing on the expertise of mobility experts from universities across the UK, centred around the following principles: that a national scheme should be provide an equivalent number of opportunities for students to Erasmus; it should be simple in design; it should be UK-wide, global and demand-led; and it should be designed to encourage wider participation in mobility.

What we know so far about the Turing Scheme sounds pretty good measured against these principles. £100 million should fund could fund between 15,000 and 20,000 opportunities for students in higher education, and 35,000 overall. Since just under 18,000 higher education students used the Erasmus scheme in 2018/19, Turing should be in the same ball-park in terms of the scale of opportunities. Furthermore, since many universities have multi-year Erasmus grants, which they will be able to continue to use, there will be additional funding in the system this year and next, especially given that limited mobility has taken place in the last year due to COVID, However, Professor Carter is right to ask whether this budget will accommodate growth in the number of students participating, especially if more students go further afield. But in response I would say two things:

Firstly, this is a one-year funding commitment. If we want room for growth, we need to make this case as part of the three-year Spending Review which is about to get underway.

Second, we’re in the middle of the biggest economic crisis of our lifetimes. I know that the Department for Education had to fight very hard indeed for the £100 million. For a long time, there was a real risk that, out of Erasmus, there would be nothing to replace it, or that a replacement would be tiny in scale. I also know that, without the glare of the UK-EU negotiations, maintaining political support for investment on this scale will be far from easy, especially if the reaction from our own sector is underwhelming.

I am disappointed that we won’t participate in the next Erasmus scheme. I understand the difficulties that universities might face in negotiating exchange agreements outside of it, especially since Turing will fund outbound, but not inbound mobility. But I believe that we need to wait to see the detail of the scheme before pouring cold water on it. I also believe that there is a reasonable chance that this scheme could provide a catalyst for growth in outbound mobility that, frankly, the Erasmus scheme has failed to deliver. After all, only 8% of UK undergraduate students undertook a period of study, work or volunteering abroad in 2018/19 – and less than half of them did so via the Erasmus programme. While that number has been growing over the last few years, you could argue that the lack of flexibility in Erasmus was part of the problem.

Turing wasn’t our plan A, but from what I can see so far, it is not a bad plan B, and it is certainly better than Plan Zero. I hope universities will make the best of it, and work to encourage students to make the most of the opportunities it will offer.

5 comments

  1. Martin Cumella says:

    This is a very disappointing article which does a great disservice to thousands of young people in colleges and universities who could have continued to benefit from Erasmus rather than the government’s fig leaf replacement. It’s really not your job Vivien to act as a government apologist regarding economic pressures when we all know of the vast sums that have been wasted through mismanagement over the past year.
    The reasons that Turing is a poor replacement are that it is less well funded (and only for 1 year), there is no reciprocal funding for international partners and therefore no incentive for them to take part, and there is no funding for knowledge transfer/developmental projects.
    As chair of an FE College in London covering disadvantaged communities there is no doubt in my mind that the most disadvantaged will miss out as a result of this ill considered decision. I would be interested to hear from anyone who like me believes that we should be fighting now to restore the UK’s membership of the Erasmus programme.

  2. As per our discussions with the Government Ministers and officials, it is quite apparent that at the moment apart from our Research Councils and InnovateUK programmes we do not have a comprehensive strategy to replace the EU funded programmes and its efficient and effective performance assessment system. The EU assessment system is fair and well established based on best practices developed from EU member states previous experience. I have been involved with the UK Government Education, Research and innovation initiatives and a review of my organization’s websites clearly show the EU funding model make sense as it developed for all the previous Education Research and Innovation programmes; all education and innovation programmes are now grouped and placed under the Erasmus+ programme and that all Research and Development programmes grouped under the H2020 including the Factories of the Future programme which I initiated in 1979 as Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) initially which led to development the manufacture
    (www.manufuture.org) and later MariFuture (www.marifuture.org). With support from the then DTI I organised a series of conference under ManTec (see for examples http://www.c4ff.co.uk/history/papers/Supporting_The_Government_in_Indstry_Academia_Collaborations-Mantek_Conferences.pdf or http://www.c4ff.co.uk/history/papers/Rover_Partnership.pdf or http://www.c4ff.co.uk/history/papers/Establishment_of_Manufacturing_Centres_and_Sample_Conference.pdf)

    My Centre (C4FF) was one of the UK 10 top technology projects (UK Tecnet) which was included in the first batch of EU EuroTechnet and later became one of the most sought after projects in the EU viz., Factories of the Future (FoF). The complimentary impact of European Regional Fund (ERDF) as well as the one funding programme that is not often mentioned European Social Fund (ESF) was crucial to the development of multi-facetted projects where a country could set up a strategy for the development of major programmes seeking funding from different funding mechanisms, buildings from ERDF, for social engineering from ESF, for Research from the Framework programme now H2020, for education and innovation from the programmes now included in Erasmus+. Did you know that one of the most valuable programmes to SMEs has been different streams of Erasmus+ programmes? I do not know if you are aware that Erasmus+ is not just for student exchange but a whole range of initiatives. While Erasmus+ includes student exchange programmes (Mobility (Key Action 1)) it also provides several opportunities for funding education, research and innovation initiatives (Cooperation for Innovation and Exchange of Good Practices (Key Action 2); Support for Policy Reform (Key Action 3) and there are also two separate areas of the programme for Jean Monnet activities and Sport. If you let me have your email address I will be able to send you this letter also as an email attachment so that you can access the links given.

    I really hope that the Governments put a greater effort is supporting the SMEs now that we have exited the EU. The well-being of SMEs is crucial to our future and to date most effort in supporting SMEs has been superficial in my view. I am in contact with several ministers and the Prime Minster on a whole range of subjects but I hope the Government does its work in finding what was good and retain it and find a fair means of rewarding past performance.

    I also would wish to remind the readers that another scheme known as EUREKA should be fully supported. In a recent letter to me from James Duddridge, stating that BEIS has secured a £30 million financial uplift for EUREKA funded projects for the period 2018 to 2020 is first not enough to replace H2020 and Erasmas+ and rather misleading as my own centre having secured EUREKA funding for two of our projects OPTIMU and DayTime after many months of hard work and going through a very competitive assessment regime was told that the government has decided not to fund some of the EUREKA programme streams putting my Centre in a very difficult financial situation. Whilst C4FF has many
    centres worldwide, these all became independent as of 1996 and my centre assumes a coordinating role until Framework 6 made us independent which forced us to seek funding in order to retain our expertise of knowing how to seek funding for our SME members. With the advent of BREXIT it probably would mean the only EU platform (www.marifuture.org) we are running will come to an end. MariFuture is one of the largest and most successful maritime education, research and innovation networks in Europe. I am in contact with government officials and ministers but due to the complexity of funding systems, I have come to the conclusion that they do not have sufficient knowledge of these funding mechanisms and without knowing what they are doing they are virtually killing many good projects and initiatives currently funded by the EU particularly for SMEs. It is on this basis that I have decided to write to you and the noble Lords so that they give some time to find out what is going on before deciding on a new system for the UK because there are complexities and there is a great deal of confusion. A good example is James Duddridge’s misunderstanding of EUREKA and his misguided advice in directing us towards this programme and not knowing how it works and that not all EUREKA streams are eligible for UK funding.
    I have been supporting the houses of parliament and with support from Lord Strachan developed the first Hybrid car in the UK some 30 years ago (http://www.c4ff.co.uk/history/papers/Emerging_transportation_system.pdf; http://www.c4ff.co.uk/history/awards/National_Diploma-Hybrid_Vehicles.pdf;
    http://www.c4ff.co.uk/history/awards/Design_and_Use_of_Hybrid_Vehicles_National_Prize.pdf). I personally believe the UK system is fine if we incorporate the current EU programmes such as ERDF, ESF, H2020 and Erasmus+ and their assessment system into it. In all programmes I have been involved with and promoted the concept of Rapid Prototyping (RP) by bench marking it against the best there is. If anyone knows what happened to Lucas CAV and Bryce in the early 80s they will understand the importance of bench marking and RP. My new venture team at Lucas once trailing behind Bosch started to take a lead developing the fastest reacting solenoid, high pressure injection system, microjector, common rail with support from the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell and many supplier SMEs. BOSCH could not believe a small name like Lucas Bryce has taken the lead in high tech fuel injection systems.

    We have our own STEM group to support schools (www.inspire-group.org) our own Air Quality group (www.cwairquality.com) as well as a Climate Action Network and our own University Centre (www.bahcesehir.ac.uk) and our own Business Centre (www.berkekey-house.co.uk) yet these are all jeopardized because the income from our main business (www.c4ff.co.uk) is drying up due to Brexit and now Covid-19. The government advice in directing us to EUREKA as I explained earlier has been disastrous. Prime Minister is aware of our predicament but so far is too preoccupied with Covid-19 and Brexit to offer us a way out.

    I hope the above is helpful and I’m more than happy to support you and the Government in helping to develop a world-class system of education and R&D as well as a fair means of individual and project performance assessment for the UK. Furthermore, I hope that EUREKA is accepted as whole and not part of it. EUREKKA’s ITEA 3 offers unique opportunities but InnovateUK is unwilling to fund it, the programme is one of the most important funding systems for smaller companies as it is near market and concerns the adaption of new technologies.

  3. Prof Jim Murdoch says:

    This is indeed a dispiriting and defeatist article. It does not reassure in the slightest.

    I would add another 5 questions to those listed by Professor Carter:

    Q: Higher education is a devolved responsibility. What discussions took place with devolved administrations before the decision to withdraw from Erasmus? It surely cannot be correct that the Scottish Government first heard of this decision only when the announcement was first made in the media?

    Q: The Scottish Government and Scottish parliament have deplored the decision of HMG to withdraw from Erasmus+. Will the UK Government / UUK support current attempts by the Scottish Government to remain within Erasmus?

    Q: What countries will be prioritised by HMG as priority countries for outward mobility? Will universities have any say in this strategic prioritisation, or are young people to be foot soldiers for ‘Global Britain’ pretensions?

    Q: Scotland’s share of outward mobility is currently about a fifth of all UK mobility. Will money be allocated to Scotland in accordance with Barnett, or on the basis of demand?

    Q: Why will students from Europe (or covered by the enlarged ERASMUS programme) find it attractive to come to GB in the absence of financial support and the new need to pay £800 for visas and healthcare?

  4. Linsey Fender says:

    Readers may be interested in this related article written by Professor Jim Murdoch (see his comments above): https://www.uofgschooloflaw.com/blog/2021/1/15/the-fatal-design-flaw-in-uks-erasmus-replacing-turing-scheme

  5. Scott Leslie says:

    I fully expect that UK nationals living in Europe will be the biggest losers as usual. EU and EEA universities will charge them “rest of the world” fees because they hold a UK passport, and the UK will most probably exclude them from this new scheme because they’re not resident in the UK.

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