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Education: Turing Scheme

Volume 809: debated on Tuesday 5 January 2021


Asked by

My Lords, thousands of students will be able to study and undertake work placements across the world through the new Turing scheme, which is replacing the UK’s participation in Erasmus+. The new scheme will provide funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September this year. We are already engaging with educational institutions and expect applications to open in the coming weeks.

My Lords, that is all very well but we had assurances from the Prime Minister and government Ministers that after Brexit we would continue to be part of Erasmus—yet more broken promises from this shameless and incompetent Government. How does the Minister see the Turing scheme replacing the life-changing opportunities afforded by Erasmus without reciprocity with our EU partners?

My Lords, the Government promised to negotiate with the European Union to seek continued participation. Unfortunately, the ideas that we advanced in the spirit of compromise to try to reach a deal that was good value for money fell on deaf ears. The Government see the Turing scheme as bigger, broader and global in outlook, allowing students to avail themselves of opportunities beyond 27 other countries.

My Lords, the Government say that they want the opportunities provided by Turing to be open to all, so will they guarantee that all the costs will be covered, as they are under Erasmus? I note that in the noble Lord’s Answer he spoke only of students at colleges and schools. How will the Government ensure that the opportunities are truly open to all, including apprentices, volunteers, jobseekers and the burgeoning number of financially disadvantaged young people, including students? Will the Minister therefore give a commitment that the modalities will be 100% covered for each and every one of these groups?

My Lords, we want to ensure that part of the new Turing scheme is a focus on disadvantaged students—those who may not have had the opportunity to benefit from programmes such as Erasmus+ in the past. We are working directly with educational institutions to make sure that people are able to take up those opportunities and we will provide additional funding for disadvantaged students to cover, for instance, the cost of passports or visas, or for students with disabilities to undertake preparatory visits to make sure that all the necessary accommodations can be made for them.

My Lords, students holding British passports studying in a Northern Ireland university are to be offered access to the Erasmus+ scheme, paid for by the generosity of the Irish Government. What happened to Michael Gove’s promise, made just six months ago, as we have heard, that

“we will continue to seek membership of those programmes across the United Kingdom”?—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/20; col. 383.]

My Lords, we certainly understand that the Republic of Ireland has unilaterally suggested that it might be possible for students in Northern Ireland to take part in Erasmus+. It is not clear how that would work in practice or what the European Commission’s position on that would be, but I can say that UK-wide funding is available as part of the Turing scheme, and universities, colleges and schools across the whole of the UK will be eligible to bid for it, including those in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, while I welcome anything that at least partially replicates the Erasmus and Erasmus+ schemes, which have been very successful, the absence of two-way exchanges with Europe is to be regretted. I ask my noble friend how we intend to replace the elements of Erasmus which gave support not only to educational exchanges with Europe but to wider activities, with training, youth and volunteer activities, and the necessary administrative staff?

My noble friend is right to point out the inbound element, and the UK remains an attractive destination for international students, with nearly half a million studying at our world-class universities. On some of the other elements of Erasmus+, sport, for instance, represented a very small part of the programme, representing only 1.8% of the overall budget, but, through our own government schemes such as through Sport England, we have been investing more than £1.2 billion between 2016 and this year on grass-roots sport and physical activity programmes, so we are ensuring that attention is given to them.

My Lords, as has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, Erasmus is as much about students coming to the UK as it is about our students going overseas. Indeed, I believe we have been receiving twice the number of students that we have sent away, which is a tribute to our universities and effectively balances the cost of our students going abroad. Surely the Turing scheme or others must provide the means to continue that balanced exchange of students, their teachers and those involved in coming up with innovations needed to keep our economy competitive.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Erasmus was a scholar at the university of which the noble Lord was vice-chancellor. Inbound student participation is important as well. That is why we are pleased that there are nearly half a million international students studying in the UK and why the Government have an international education strategy to continue to build on that number. We have four of the world’s top 10 universities and remain an attractive destination.

My Lords, Monsieur Barnier said that pulling out of Erasmus was a choice the Government made. Why was that? If the Turing scheme to replace Erasmus is to succeed, it must reach a high bar. How will it genuinely encourage higher participation rates from disadvantaged students? How will it cover incoming students? Will participants have to pay extra fees at international student rates? And will the net gain to the UK economy be as high as it was under the Erasmus scheme?

My Lords, we were clear throughout the negotiations that we were willing to pay a fair price to continue participating in Erasmus+, but we could not justify a large net contribution such as the new programme was envisaging. We would have been paying in nearly £2 billion more than we got back, and we did not think that would represent value for money. We put forward a number of ideas in the spirit of compromise, but, unfortunately, the EU was unwilling to consider any of them. That is why we are setting up our new Turing scheme, which, as the noble Lord says, will focus on people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, we will be working directly with education establishments to ensure that people from around the whole UK, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds, can benefit from it.

My Lords, I am minded to ask what price one can put on life-changing opportunities such as those lost with the Erasmus scheme. I declare an interest as an academic involved in Erasmus+ programmes over the years. What thought are the Government giving to ensure that modern foreign language training remains and that students have the opportunity to become embedded in other cultures, because that is vital to ensure that we have important networks in future?

The noble Baroness is right to point out the life-changing opportunities that educational exchange provides. People had life-changing experiences taking part in Erasmus. Under the new Turing scheme, they will be able to do that globally, learning languages not just from the European continent but languages such as Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic, and representing the truly global outlook that we want for the UK.

My Lords, the Turing scheme will be a welcome improvement for British students, because it will increase the choice of countries in which they may study, reflecting the wider international aspirations of global Britain, and because it will represent better value for the taxpayer. However, nearly one-third of the 480,000 international students who studied in the UK in the 2018-19 academic year were from EU countries. Does the Minister agree that it is important that we continue to attract significant numbers of students from Europe? How will the Government help British universities replace their connections with their European partners to achieve that, especially given that the number of incoming students from China may decline?

My noble friend is right to point to the increased choice and opportunity available to students under the new Turing scheme, and to the nearly half a million international students who already choose to come to study here in the UK. We are keen to extend that, as I said, through our international student strategy and the appointment of Sir Steve Smith as the Government’s international education champion.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the impact on universities of losing a significant amount of finance on inward-bound exchange schemes, because it will now cost money for them to set up exchanges?

We have been liaising with the higher education sector through groups such as the Russell Group and MillionPlus as the negotiations were ongoing and as we developed the Turing scheme, which is the back-up to it.

After years of training, young musicians are often the most impoverished, but they are central to our cultural heritage. Music education offers much more than just music. Among other things, it promotes cognition and collaboration, which is essential to music and, indeed, to all education. What provision will be made under Turing now that we have left Erasmus?

The noble Lord is right to point to the advantages that educational exchange provides, whatever the subject people are studying, and I am sure that is being taken account of as the new Turing scheme is being introduced.

Sitting suspended.