Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the value of cultural and education exchanges for (1) students, and (2) others who may benefit from such exchanges.
My Lords, having started my Question by referring to “cultural” exchanges but wishing to focus on educational exchanges, I requested—just to be on the safe side—that the debate be answered by the Department for Education. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, is here to do so. However, in truth, on reflection, my Question could have been directed in some sense at almost every government department, including, and perhaps especially, the Home Office—I will come back to that.
I first became aware of the term “cultural exchange” in the 1980s, when there was a trend for exchanges of artists between countries. From my time in Sheffield, I remember that there was a huge interest, there and elsewhere, in the culture of countries that are less visited or difficult to visit, including those behind the Iron Curtain or just released from it. Georgia was one such country.
However, one of the things that you quickly observed was how cultural exchange can, at least potentially, get very complicated because the artists concerned have this new, exciting relationship but might also have quite another relationship with their own respective countries—they do not necessarily represent them. One was particularly aware of these undercurrents at the time, even if the wider world then took little notice, at least on our side.
I detect an echo of this today, in a more reverberative way, in the fairly clear unwillingness of our current Government during negotiations to sign up to those aspects of Erasmus+ that they would have been uncomfortable with. Therefore, they could not sign up to Erasmus at all, certain that the schemes would, to the ears of some Brexiteers, have sounded a little too much like an overly cosy relationship at best, and EU propaganda at worst.
My belief is that the reason that the Government dropped Erasmus+ had very little to do with money, as they claim, but everything to do with ideology. Educational exchanges are cultural exchanges and, as with physical borders, this Government are just as keen to control the borders of such exchanges if they feel that their side of the border is in any way threatened. Curiously, they have a very different view of scientific collaboration, with our continuing membership of Horizon Europe, into which we are ploughing large sums of money. This is perhaps ironic, given that science subjects are as much affected by the decision to drop Erasmus+ as any other.
We presently seem to be in a kind of lull between the loss of Erasmus+ and discovering the results of Turing applications. On the plus side, relief has been expressed that something, at least, has been put in place. Also on the plus side is the appointment of the British Council and Ecorys to oversee the scheme, providing both experience and the possibility of a degree of continuity, at least. However, the debit side is long. From what we have heard, Turing woefully lacks the range, depth and ambitions of Erasmus+. The greatest apprehension concerns the potential loss of the links built up over many years by staff and colleges and through associated projects.
One of the major claims for Turing is that it will be global, but figures from 2017-18 show that four out of the five most popular destinations for students are the US—by a wide margin—Australia, Ireland and Canada. Remove the English-speaking countries and France, number 3 on the list and our closest neighbour, becomes the most popular. The language barrier, then, acts to some extent as a disincentive to the majority of UK students. The point here is that emphasising that Turing is to have a global reach only confirms a bias that is already there. Moreover, many universities already have arrangements with other countries, and Erasmus+ itself now reaches beyond Europe. The non-English speaking countries are the ones that really need targeting.
Knowledge of languages, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, would point out, is a key factor in deeper cultural exchange, and is, moreover, hugely important for academic and scientific advancement. As someone very interested in the contemporary arts across Europe, I am aware of how much language differences can be a barrier to understanding. Yet, as a number of recent reports point out, language learning in the UK is decreasing. Andreas Schönle, of Bristol University, says:
“A particular concern … is the increasing social divide in foreign language ability. Yet bilingualism opens many doors and fosters social mobility”.
This is an important point to consider, if educational exchanges are also to help the disadvantaged.
In an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 17 June, the Universities Minister wrote:
“The Turing scheme is targeted at all students, particularly the most disadvantaged. While the UK was part of Erasmus, the most privileged were 1.7 times more likely to benefit from studying abroad”.
I ask the Government: what is the evidence base for that statement, and are they referring only to UK students?
A major intention of Erasmus+ is to help the less well-off, and there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to support its effectiveness in this respect. A 2019 survey of 31 colleges by the Association of Colleges found that three-quarters gave that programme full marks for benefit to their institution. How will the Government monitor their intention to help the disadvantaged through study abroad, particularly in Europe, where post-Brexit logistical difficulties may well deter many, including the disadvantaged? Perhaps a better measure of success would be in absolute numbers, rather than ratios.
An interesting aspect of what has happened since the announcement about Erasmus has been the divergence in terms of opportunities available to students and others within the UK, across England and the devolved nations. The £65 million promised by the Welsh Government in March for the period 2022 to 2026 is not just an influx of money; it is an attempt, alongside Turing, to restructure opportunities according to the Erasmus+ model, and not to lose out on the partnerships that have already been built.
The press release, rather pointedly called “New International Learning Exchange programme to make good the loss of Erasmus+”, has this to say:
“The Programme will provide funding to enable students, staff and learners across universities, Further Education and Vocational Education and Training, Adult Education, youth work settings and schools to undertake a period of structured learning or work experience overseas, as well as enabling strategic partnerships … A fundamental principle of the programme will be reciprocity. Where necessary, the programme will fund costs related to the inward mobility of learners, teachers and young people from partner organisations abroad. This will enable existing partnerships which have been built up under Erasmus+ to continue and help to create new ones”.
Quite simply, Wales is trying to recreate Erasmus+. Scotland has said it wants Erasmus+ back, and Northern Ireland looks as though it will get both Erasmus+, courtesy of Ireland, and Turing. Meanwhile, England, without the direct political representation that could make the case for itself, as is increasingly true on so many matters, is left having to make do with Turing on its own, with no promise of further development of that scheme.
I have some other questions. The applications for Turing have now closed, so when will the Government publish detailed statistics, including the educational establishments participating, the number of participants involved per country, and the numbers per type of exchange? How will they monitor the effectiveness of Turing, and what criteria will they use? Will they commit to a longer cycle of funding? Will they, as Wales has decided to do, expand the scheme to take advantage of the links that already exist, and include other types of exchange, as well as the staff trips that so many colleges, including further education colleges, have, through Erasmus+, found so valuable in developing new ideas?
Will Turing be expanded to include partnerships and collaborative projects, such as the skills sector partnerships, crucial to the identification of emerging skills gaps across Europe, including gaps in digital skills? For so many current projects simply to be dropped through the loss of Erasmus+ would surely be a massive waste and a blow to educational development in this country—not to mention the jobs that would be lost. Will Turing reintroduce reciprocity in funding? That would be a key aspect of any claim for it to be a viable cultural exchange programme. I look forward to the Government’s response.
Finally, with regard to school trips from the EU, it is, again, the obsessive need to control our borders—we come back to the Home Office—that has led to the passport and visa changes on 1 October. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said in the House on 9 June that this would not lead to a fall in trips to the UK, and the Minister here today may back that view up, but the people we should all listen to are surely those who run the relevant businesses. The Guardian reported on 4 June the trip organisers’ view that there might be up to 375,000 fewer trips. The noble Baroness’s response —that the Government were bringing the regulations into line only with those for non-EU countries—was disingenuous, because within Europe the EU identity card is used as a passport, while on both sides the loss of the list of travellers scheme will mean the cancellation of trips, because some students will not be able to participate.
It will be the less well-off students who lose out—the opposite of what the Government claim they intend to achieve on our side with the Turing scheme. Will they monitor what effect these actions have on the number of school trips from Europe? If the numbers do fall, what effect will that have on the economy, including that of cities such as Canterbury, which depend so much on education?
My Lords, I just want to thank the noble Earl for introducing this debate. It is not the first time we have talked about this matter. The last time I spoke to it was on 9 June in the Chamber, when the Home Office was dealing with it. I simply want to say that because I was foolish enough to think that the existing arrangements that allow people to come from schools in Europe might be extended to pupils anywhere in the world. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who is a perfectly lovely woman, rapped my fingers and slapped my wrists and made me aware of my own ignorance on such matters—whereupon I undertook to find out whether such school groups on collective passports can continue to enjoy the benefits that the noble Earl so eloquently adumbrated.
Those inquiries yielded this fact: the Council of Europe, through a 1961 treaty, holds a reciprocal arrangement—still valid—whereby countries that ratified it are able to use collective passports. Those countries are Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The Council of Europe has also confirmed that the United Kingdom has expressed no intention to withdraw from the treaty, in which case the collective passport is still valid, the visits can still take place and the fears the noble Earl expressed for poorer pupils can be met. What is to stop us doing it? I hope that the noble Baroness from the Department for Education will not rap my wrists in the same way the Home Office did, and will give us some assurances on this point and on how well they can take the publicity for this forward at present.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on what will be a brief but important debate. The Government must up the offer on the Turing scheme so that it becomes the equal or better of Erasmus+. To take away a successful scheme and replace it with a lesser one is unforgiveable. Yes, on the plus side, the new Turing scheme widens the potential destinations from the EU to worldwide; that is a big plus but the losses are greater.
No longer will the scheme include teaching and college staff and youth workers. UK students will still have to pay tuition fees while they are studying abroad and the scheme is funded for only its first year. I am sure that noble Lords more knowledgeable than I am will talk to the advantages, if any, and disadvantages—many—of the Turing scheme.
What I really want to say to the Government, however, is: invest more in our young people. Make sure that we create restless minds and an understanding of culture and cultures other than our own, promote different experiences, and ensure that all young people have this experience and opportunity.
Erasmus versus Turning is but part of a bigger picture, which paints a reductionist attitude to our future by the Government. It is as though they do not understand that the future well-being of our nation rests on the quality of young people’s thinking, understanding, behaviour and ability. These are terrible times, particularly for our young people, and I really fear for their future. We need to show them that we care and that we want the best for them, setting them an example of leadership, generosity, understanding and empathy. For now, however, and for this debate, I will be happy if the Government make the changes that ensure that Turing is the equal or better of Erasmus+.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Earl on securing this debate. I declare an interest as an academic. I have taught, and do teach, exchange students. I also had the benefit of doing one of my degrees in the United States, at the University of Pennsylvania, where I was a Thouron scholar.
As we have heard, existing exchange programmes are wholly beneficial for the student, the sending and receiving institutions, the local community and the sending and receiving nations. As a nation, we benefit enormously from overseas students.
I advocate utilising more of the overseas aid budget to fund exchange scholarships. This could be through using aid to allocate scholarship vouchers to developing nations, enabling them to send bright students to study at UK universities. The vouchers would be wholly redeemable at UK higher education institutions. The developing nations would gain graduates who can contribute to the economic well-being of the nation; aid would thus be an investment for the future. UK universities would benefit from having these students, as would local economies where the universities are based. The United Kingdom would benefit from the expansion of soft power, and utilising aid in this way would avoid problems of tracking where the money is going.
We already have some excellent scholarship programmes for overseas students. Expanding substantially what we already offer is in everyone’s interest. I hope my noble friend the Minister will indicate a willingness, at the very least, to discuss the proposal with colleagues and feed back the result of her deliberations.
My Lords, this year’s language trends survey, just published by the British Council, shows that the pandemic has exacerbated the decline in international opportunities for primary and secondary schools in England. This includes trips abroad, partnering with a school abroad and involvement in cross-cultural projects.
Some 64% of primaries and 38% of state secondaries reported no international activities at all, compared with only 11% of independent schools. These experiences give pupils an opportunity to use the languages they are learning, which helps motivation and access to a different culture. Nearly two-thirds of language students at university say they were inspired by an exchange trip at school.
In addition, the journal Schools Week has reported that “One little-noticed casualty” of Brexit
“is Britain’s lost access to the EU’s ‘list of travellers’ scheme, which lets non-EU migrant pupils travel on school trips without usual visa rules.”
Some pupils now risk exclusion from school trips, with disadvantaged pupils the most affected. Can the Minister comment and raise this with the Home Office?
Problems at school affect languages at university. UCAS figures show a staggering decline in MFL applicants, and one of the main reasons is the end of UK participation in the Erasmus+ programme, which took students to well over 100 countries—not just Europe. Language skills and cross-cultural experience gained during the year abroad are qualities that employers value. Graduates who have spent a year abroad are 23% less likely to be unemployed than those who have not.
The replacement Turing scheme is full of uncertainty. Echoing some of the questions asked by other noble Lords, I ask the Minister to say whether there are any plans to make Turing reciprocal, as Erasmus+ was, and if not, why not; whether there are any plans to continue its funding for more than just one year; and whether its scope will be as broad and inclusive as Erasmus.
Trips and exchanges enhance language learning and benefit the students themselves and their employability and mobility, but also the UK more widely as we seek to redefine our post-Brexit place and influence on the international stage.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and other colleagues have clearly laid out the risks of our young people, especially artists and students, being disadvantaged by the loss of the Erasmus scheme and the difficulties in accessing work and travel visas. I declare my interests at Oxford University, as noted in the register.
However, it is not the particular needs of students and the issues relating to the replacement Turing scheme to which I wish to refer. Before Brexit and Covid, there was already a widespread move away from international and cross-cultural engagement towards nationalism and what one might call community introversion. Like many other problems, this has been exacerbated and accelerated by the pandemic, not only because of the difficulties of travelling but because, when faced with the anxiety created by the risks of travel and engagement with others we do not know well, turning back towards known people, places and activities is only natural.
We cannot therefore assume that, in the post-pandemic era, people will naturally create, or even take up, opportunities to engage with other communities, countries and cultures, despite it being hugely enriching and maturing. We will need to provide extra encouragement and facilities for young people to engage with those in other countries.
There are already networks that could facilitate this with those young people less likely to go to university. I am referring to international networks associated with faith communities—among Christian communities, the Scouting and Guiding movements, the Boys’ Brigade, the Girls Brigade and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme—and those organisations of other faith communities. My early experience of other cultures came through such networks, and the value and connections were maintained long after the visits. They are inexpensive because accommodation is often provided by families associated with the organisations. Can the Minister advise us whether the Government are prepared to consider including such approaches to enable our young people to expand their cultural awareness and experience?
My Lords, as the noble Earl confirmed, the issue here goes much further than simply school and college cultural exchange visits, although all the points he and others made about the disaster that will follow the lack of Erasmus+ and all the human, cultural and institutional contact that will be lost rang very true, as did the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about the need for reciprocity.
Many Members of your Lordships’ House have been appalled by the way the Government sold the cultural sector, one of the most important and vibrant sectors of our economy, down the river when the Home Office refused to allow in the EU-UK trade deal a sensible, pragmatic and mutually beneficial visa and associated permits system for those who wish to perform abroad—something that operated successfully since 1972, as many others said.
The noble Lord, Lord Frost, has repeatedly answered questions on this at the Dispatch Box. He continues to blame the EU for the failure to arrive at a deal on this, although all the evidence seems to say otherwise. He has said at the Dispatch Box that, absent a pan-EU- UK deal, bilateral agreements are the way forward, but details are extremely hard to establish. Which countries are involved? Where are we with each of them? What is the timescale? Has the Home Office agreed with the approach? Is it prepared to offer the reciprocal arrangements and visas necessary for EU citizens to visit this country?
As others have said, the Minister has a reputation for openness and transparency at the Dispatch Box. The issue before us is vital to the creative industries. I hope she can give clear and unequivocal answers to the questions I have asked and the others that have been raised today.
My Lords, I remind the Committee of my interest as master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. This is an important if brief debate, founded on a simple and important truth: young people, especially students, have their education and personal development enormously enriched by meeting and sharing experiences with people from other cultures and backgrounds, especially if they themselves experience that culture and background too.
Of course, we had a programme that delivered precisely this: Erasmus+, which many noble Lords referred to. In 2019, 30,000 UK students and trainees travelled to all parts of Europe to take up places on the scheme. No less importantly, 17,000 EU students came here. More than 4,000 university institutions across Europe participate in Erasmus. Yet we have thrown it all away, all in search of some kind of little Englander, pure Brexiter mythology.
The Government claim that their replacement Turing scheme will be better and more global, but here is the rub: it is a pale shadow of Erasmus. The UK Government are putting in less money than the EU put into Erasmus just for the UK. Universities up and down the land are already doing exchanges across the globe. It is not either global or EU; it has been, up to now, both, but no more. This is a tragedy for our young people. We have thrown away access to the largest, most active and best-developed exchange scheme in the world. Our country and our life chances are diminished by this decision.
My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, who introduced this debate, I urge the Government to have a cross-party, cross-departmental approach to address the issues being raised today, particularly those involving the Home Office. For a number of years now, I have had a link with a school in the suburbs of Paris, in a disadvantaged area, where an inspirational teacher has done so much to open the eyes of her pupils to other countries and cultures. Every year, she has brought a class over to London, sometimes just for a day, to learn about Parliament and our system of government. The Home Office’s recent announcements seem to have cast a pall and caused doubt about whether these visits can continue, particularly when they involve pupils from disadvantaged and least prosperous backgrounds. My noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port put some very interesting points to the Minister, and I hope she can be reassuring about the continuation of such group and class visits in her reply.
The other issue I want to raise is the au pair system. It allowed opportunities for young people to learn our language and become familiar with our culture while being part of a family. However, the system no longer functions as far as our European neighbours are concerned, given that, under the Immigration Rules, au pairs now come under the category of skilled workers who need to show that they will earn £20,000 a year to be admitted. Au pair agencies across the continent have reported drops of up to 90% in applications as a result, with many French newspapers carrying articles deploring the Home Office’s stance, which is seen as yet another way in which the Government seem intent on portraying Britain as an unwelcoming country. Will the Government think again very carefully about these two issues—school visits and the au pair system—and come up with a much more generous and welcoming policy?
My Lords, given the time limit, I will focus on the student part of this debate, particularly in higher and further education. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for securing this debate.
I pay tribute to the many contributors to the session of the Westminster Higher Education Forum on the Turing scheme, which I chaired last week. They are too numerous to name individually, but much of what I am about to say draws on their thoughts. There was universal agreement that the Turing scheme is far inferior to the Erasmus+ scheme that it half-heartedly replaces, that we had by international standards, even under Erasmus, a low number of students going to study abroad and that that level is sadly likely to decline. When we are thinking about our productivity, international competitiveness and quality of life, that is a serious disadvantage as the academic and social benefits of studying overseas and having contact with overseas students and academics is well documented.
It is clear that 100% of students would benefit from cultural and educational exchanges. It is obvious that not 100% will be in a position to travel overseas, so we need a far more creative, flexible, effective and better funded scheme than Turing as currently structured, particularly one that brings foreign students and academics here. We need to give home students the opportunity to benefit from classroom and informal exchanges with overseas students and staff as a practical alternative and cheaper method to ensure that crucial contact. We need stable, steady funding, not based on competition. There are all kinds of reasons for that, one being that when students are considering which institution to attend, they need to know what that institution will be able to offer throughout the course in terms of international exchanges. We need to involve students and academics at all levels. This should be part of our efforts to offer reparations to the global south for our previous damage.
We also need to see Turing covering virtual exchanges. An excellent example I came across is called the Australia- Indonesia Co-operation for the Preservation of Underwater Cultural Heritage. It saw students and academics from across the archipelago joining Australian counterparts to explore an area of work which is, as yet, little developed in Indonesia to the benefit of all. We need something much better than what we have now.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for introducing this debate, as we too often take for granted the impact of living in another country or another culture. Perhaps the Covid pandemic has helped to highlight how much we have all missed the value of cultural and educational exchanges, as international travel has been so curtailed.
As my children were growing up, I recall the pen pals they each had: another secondary school pupil abroad, to help improve their French skills. The excitement of the visit when the pen pals would finally meet, and each child would play host in showing off their hometown before a return visit, had a great impact on their lives and their understanding of other cultures.
I have also been lucky enough to see first-hand the benefits of the Rhodes scholarship, which was first awarded in 1902 and is perhaps the most prestigious international scholarship programme, enabling young people from around the world to study at Oxford University. A great-nephew and a great-niece have been awarded this scholarship in recent years—the latest, Freya Willis, arrives this September to take up a place at Oxford to study gender, race and political economy in care work. In each of these cases, we can see how much an individual brings, learns and shares of their culture and ours. We are all the richer for the experience.
I must comment that I had a lot to do with au pairs in the days when my children were young. The points just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, are important. I look to the Minister to assure the Committee that visas, where required, will be easily available so that these exchanges may continue long into the future.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Earl on securing this debate. I am going to speak about school trips from abroad. My younger daughter is a schoolteacher at a small rural lycée in the Sarthe region. She has lived there nearly 28 years and has a French husband and three children, who have British and French nationality. As a result of Brexit, she has become a French citizen.
Every other year, travelling by Eurostar, my daughter used to lead a party of her 16 to 18 year-old students to visit London. There were never fewer than 21 in the party; the largest group had 43. Typically, they stayed for five nights at a youth hostel in Canada Water. During the week, they visited all the major museums in London, the Cabinet War Rooms, Roman London, the Houses of Parliament, Camden Town, the National Gallery and much more. A lot of what they visited reminded them of the common history and close links of friendship between the people of France and the United Kingdom. I asked my daughter: what was the value of the visits? She said, “It’s hard to put into words how much it gives them. So many have barely left the region. So many have never taken the train before. The majority come from simple backgrounds with few opportunities for travel. Going to London is just such an amazing experience for them”.
The visits have now stopped and French schools are turning to Ireland instead as an English-speaking destination. A major problem is the British refusal to accept the French identity card, as almost none of the students holds a passport. The disappearance of the European health insurance card from the UK is another major obstacle.
Open-mindedness, cultural and linguistic enrichment, the building of character and increased independence and confidence: that is how my daughter describes what the visits give her pupils. The UK is now barely offered as a destination, so future generations of international pupils are being deprived of a wonderful opportunity. This is also the case for European and British students, who of course can no longer participate in the wonderful Erasmus programme.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on securing this important debate about the value and benefit of cultural and educational exchanges. I do not think the comparison can be well made between the Erasmus programme and the forthcoming Turing programme, because it is generally felt that Turing is a substandard replacement for Erasmus and replicates only the university element. This means that, in many instances, it is not available across the board to lots of young people who have been able to avail themselves of the Erasmus programme.
In Northern Ireland, young people will be able to avail themselves of Erasmus with the help of the Irish Government. However, to evaluate fully the benefits and value of such exchanges, I talked to young people, youth workers and teachers. They told me that the importance of the programme is that it develops personal, professional and academic attitudes; broadens horizons to understand and appreciate other cultures; develops cultural awareness and open-mindedness; improves and enables the gaining of new language skills for use in future workplaces; boosts employability opportunities through a broadened CV; and gains and gives new perspectives and understanding, to the benefit of these young people’s degrees. Moreover, youth cultural exchanges provide those who would not normally be able to holiday in continental locations a means of visiting and appreciating other cultures.
I urge the Minister to look at the possibility of regaining and returning to Erasmus+ because of the many benefits gained from it right across the devolved regions and in England itself.
My Lords, an exchange has benefits of all kinds, both tangible and intangible. Among the tangible benefits, it increases the employability of the individual concerned, makes them familiar with the international markets and tastes of other societies and gives them the capacity to imagine new products and relationships. It also increases their contacts.
However, the intangible benefits are far more important. An individual grows up in a particular culture. We are able to see its strengths and limitations, but they can do so only if they are able to step of their country. However, they cannot step out of their country because there is no cross-cultural Archimedean standpoint from which they can look at their culture and observe its strengths and limitations. The only mini-Archimedean standpoint is another culture. If you look at your culture from the standpoint of another, you get to see its strengths and limitations. In so doing, you acquire a new pair of eyes, a new pair of ears and new sensitivity. This is why I think the word “exchange” is quite appropriate. You exchange—you give up your old self and acquire a new one. For all these reasons, an exchange creates a new individual, a new self. Through him, it has an impact on his family and on the social environment in which he lives and functions. It has a transformative effect on the entire community of which he is a part.
I end by asking two or three simple questions of the Minister. First, exchanges are not limited to university students, although they have tended to be thanks to Erasmus+. Exchange can be a lifelong activity, beginning at the age of 15 or 16 and going on for a long time. Secondly, we could change our visa rules and regulations; we cannot afford to be too stuffy about them. Thirdly, of course, there are the ethnic minorities. There will be a temptation to send them to their own countries of origin, which would be counterproductive. We need to devise more imaginative ways. Fourthly, and more importantly, we will need to think of a variety of countries and cultures to which individuals can be exposed. They cannot simply be sent to countries like their own. A variety of civilisations is just as important as a variety of communities.
My Lords, having spent many years in the higher education sector—at Universities UK, with the British Council, on the Fulbright Commission and as chair of International Students House—I have seen the impact and huge benefits of cultural and educational exchanges. Every speaker today has reinforced that, and I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge it.
I will make two points to the Minister. The first is in relation to home students. In a recent report, Universities UK compared the academic attainment and employment outcomes of students who were mobile during their studies against those who were not. It argued that there was a clear correlation between “outward mobility” and improved academic and employment outcomes. This was particularly true—in terms of both graduate- level jobs and earning more money—in relation to disadvantaged and black and minority ethnic students. Yet, despite that great advantage, those students are unfortunately much less represented in the schemes available. Could the Minister say what the Government are doing to ensure that these opportunities are available to all students who can benefit?
Secondly, for international students coming to this country, there are still negative messages, particularly in relation to the visa programme—several speakers have made this point. Will the Minister reinforce the need to be more open and welcoming in our approach to international students coming here for what should be a life-changing experience? Will she act to integrate messages across government departments?
Finally, we should be enabling these students to get out into their local communities, experiencing local activities—not mentioned at all in the International Education Strategy. I hope that the Minister agrees with this and will encourage greater integration, to the benefit of institutions and localities as well as the students themselves.
My Lords, if I were to declare all the interests that would be relevant this afternoon, I would go well beyond my two minutes. Therefore, I am minded to give just one: a school exchange transformed my life and, without it, I would not be sitting here today. On 1 April 1984, I went on an exchange—I remember the date because someone put a fish on my back, which is the French equivalent of an April fool. It changed my life because it gave me the confidence not just to speak French but to understand other cultures. I teach European politics and have worked abroad, and this is all thanks to a school exchange.
How many people are being deprived of that in the 21st century? Things that were second nature when I was at secondary school and when your Lordships were at school are now no longer as possible. Surely, if Brexit and “going global” are to mean anything, we need to find schemes that are not just as good as Erasmus or individual schemes but even better, as my noble friend Lady Featherstone said.
Exchanges are about cultural exchange and understanding. They matter for the individual and society, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice pointed out, but they also matter for the economy. What “assessment” have the Government made, in the words of the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, about the impact of exchanges on the economy, individuals and the ability of the FCDO to recruit? If we want the best diplomats, and to engage internationally, surely we need people to have developed linguistic skills. Finally, if the Welsh Government can replicate Erasmus+, why cannot Her Majesty’s Government?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for his introduction to this debate, in which he made a persuasive case for cultural and educational exchanges, underscored by my noble friend Lord Parekh and backed up by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, speaking so persuasively, as she always does, on foreign language exchange and its effect on us. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lady Warwick, who talked about the power of outward student mobility. I hope that the Minister has listened, can respond thoughtfully to them and can give good answers to the excellent questions from my noble friend Lord Stevenson on the creative industries, my noble friends Lord Griffiths and Lord Faulkner on school trips and my noble friend Lady Quin on au pairs. These questions affect the lives of very many people, and they deserve answers.
Brexit did not mean that the UK had to leave Erasmus+—we could have carried on as a programme country or a partner country—but we chose to throw it away, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, put it. Ministers made great claims for their alternative, but the reality is much more modest, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, highlighted very clearly. Turing is very much Erasmus-minus. Theoretically, it has a global reach, but so much about it constrains our students, such as the failure to provide funding for tuition fees. This was not an issue with Erasmus, which was reciprocal, but Turing is not. If another country wanted to send its students to England in a non-reciprocal deal, would the Minister advise English universities to waive their fees? If not, why should they do it for us?
We have heard wonderful celebrations of the Welsh Government’s decision to invest £65 million in an ambitious and genuinely reciprocal exchange scheme. Are Ministers looking to Wales for inspiration? Might the Government think again about reciprocity or tuition fee support?
Unlike Erasmus, support for travel costs is offered only to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Can the Minister clarify who this is? The Turing website specifies:
“Learners with low household income or low socio-economic status (including those with an annual household income of £25,000 or less)”.
What are the criteria, other than income?
We have heard lots of criticism of the short notice and the short duration of funding. If we cannot have Erasmus, let us at least make sure that Turing is sustainable. That means longer commitment and plenty of notice. Does the Minister agree?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for bringing to your Lordships’ attention the important matter of cultural and educational exchanges. International exchanges in education open up new and exciting possibilities for participants, broadening their horizons, exposing them to new cultures and languages and, by doing so, developing critical new skills—and perhaps even shaping a career, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, outlined.
I agree with the noble Earl that he could have had a selection of government Ministers sitting in my seat this afternoon. Although I will make the utmost attempt to answer noble Lords’ questions, I am afraid I will have to write to noble Lords or ask my colleagues from the Home Office to write on all the specific questions relating to visas. I will not attempt to answer them in the time available or with the information I have to hand.
We agree that there are life-changing benefits to students from having the opportunity to study abroad. The Turing scheme is backed by £110 million, and we will provide funding for 35,000 UK students in higher education, further education and vocational training. The latter two groups have not had much focus this afternoon, and it is important that we make clear that the proportion of funds that Erasmus+ dedicated to these different groups is remaining the same under the new Turing scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, mentioned schools. Schools can travel abroad for these life-changing educational exchanges from this September.
This pioneering scheme represents a landmark step in developing our vision of a truly global Britain, enhancing our existing partnerships while forging new relationships to provide exciting opportunities for students, who will benefit well beyond their time in education. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Norton for his comments on the other countries we have relationships with. The FCDO already funds a number of Commonwealth and Chevening scholars to come to the UK.
I turn now to the Turing applications. The application period for the first year has now closed, and we are pleased to say that we have had a good number of applications from across higher education, further education, vocational training and the schools sector, indicating a strong national appetite for placements across the globe. We will announce the details of this in the next few weeks, and I will make sure that noble Lords are further updated. We have not seen the decline in applications from these sectors that noble Lords’ comments and fears might have led us to believe, even bearing in mind that during this time many educational institutions have of course been dealing with the effects of Covid.
In relation to further questions from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the evidence base for our saying that the most privileged were 1.7 times more likely to benefit from studying abroad was Universities UK International’s Gone International: Rising Aspirations report from 2016-17. Using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, it stated that 9.5% of students from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds were mobile, compared with 5.6% of students from less advantaged backgrounds—so that is where that statistic come from. We will of course evaluate the first year to see whether it has met the aims and outcomes we wanted.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned that it is just one year of funding. That is because we were given a one-year spending review. There is nothing more sophisticated than that, and we anticipate having a multiyear spending review later this year.
As many noble Lords have outlined, the Turing scheme is not, though, a like-for-like replacement for Erasmus+. We have focused on and prioritised pupils, students and learners to ensure that as many students as possible can benefit. We have focused on those elements, including on widening access to disadvantaged students, as we recognise that they provide value for money. I know that many noble Lords will not agree, but one of the reasons we did not proceed with Erasmus+ is that over seven years, we would have put £2 billion more of UK taxpayer money into the scheme than we would have received out of it.
There were questions from many noble Lords about the effects on foreign tourism and whether there is a decline in school trips, which are relevant to the economy of many areas of the UK. I will raise these matters again with colleagues from BEIS and the Foreign Office and update noble Lords. But the Committee, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, may be interested to know that one of the initiatives from the Department for Education has now helped 38% of all schools. They are part of the self-insurance scheme that the department set up, I believe, under my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Agnew. That scheme is to make it easier for schools to get insurance and protection when they undertake these activities, such as school trips. Of course, we have been much involved in paying out to schools under that scheme when they had to cancel trips. We are doing structural things to help the sector have the confidence to organise those school trips as well, which are important.
We also want to ensure that students have the kinds of opportunities to go to the countries they want to go to, and not be limited by the EU. As many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, have said, the scheme will enable schools and education settings to be global and students to go to a wider number of countries. I understand that well over 150 countries have been suggested in the bids that we have received. Already, five of the top 10 destinations for UK university students who undertake a mobility are outside the EU. Students who have participated in the Turing scheme will, we hope, return to the UK more motivated and independent, with new skills to add to the global job market.
In relation to the specific points raised about disadvantaged students, the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, mentioned the evidence that students with such experiences then do better academically and in employment. Yet under Erasmus, the most privileged students were 1.7 times more likely to participate in study abroad. No young person should be excluded from that kind of opportunity because of their family’s income.
The Turing scheme is designed for everyone but reaches out especially to the most disadvantaged. It should increase the participation of disadvantaged students by asking providers to demonstrate in their application how their project will support widening access. The scheme additionally provides financial support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, including increased grants for living costs. We are introducing funding for travel costs for disadvantaged students, as well as for extra related costs, which are often barriers to disadvantaged students, such as visas and passports, regardless of the destination.
Finally, we have reduced the minimum duration of higher education outward mobilities compared to Erasmus+ from one term to four weeks; we identified this as a barrier to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. For instance, they may have caring responsibilities or a part-time job alongside their studies. The Turing scheme also provides funding to help meet additional costs for students with disabilities. This is not only to pay the costs of any adjustments needed when they get their destination; we have added on the costs of a preparatory trip that might be necessary for staff to assure themselves that those adjustments have been made before the young person arrives.
Funding is not ring-fenced, therefore providers across all nations of the UK can competitively bid—with no cap on the amount of funding that institutions in each nation can potentially receive. The UK Government intend to deliver a scheme that will see all parts of the UK flourish, by tailoring it to UK needs and targeting promotion on areas which did not previously have many students benefiting from Erasmus+. If I have left any of the definitions in relation to disadvantage unanswered in replying to the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, I will write to her afterwards.
The scheme is demand-led and education providers have the flexibility to form partnerships that will offer the best benefits to their students. Successful applications will also receive funding towards the cost of administering the scheme on behalf of those students. I add for the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that we are the second-most popular HE destination, after the United States, so we are confident of our attractiveness.
UK education providers may use the Turing scheme funding to support mobilities for any student, regardless of their study subject. This is great news for students, including those studying languages—the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, referred to them; she is known for her interest in modern foreign languages—so that they can do exchanges and visit those countries. Obviously, languages provide an insight into other countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, mentioned, and can open the door to travel and employment opportunities. Exchange can enrich the languages curriculum and provide exciting opportunities for students.
We are grateful for the continued role of the British Council, a provider known to and trusted by many noble Lords. It helps us to administer schemes such as UK-German Connection, Connecting Classrooms and the Singapore head teachers exchange programme, all of which help to develop a generation of globally mobile, culturally agile people and professionals across the systems.
The noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Griffiths, mentioned the youth side of things. Although it is not part of Turing, DCMS is leading a youth review; it was specifically commissioned by the Treasury to do so in last year’s spending review. Within that will be consideration of the opportunities for youth groups outside educational settings, such as the Scouts, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, outlined.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions on this matter. I am aware that I have left many questions unanswered due to the time allowed, but I will seek to answer them. I look forward to working with noble Lords to help to ensure that all disadvantaged people in the UK have access to life-changing international experiences.
I just want to add that I first got on a plane as a result of a school trip. I had never experienced an aircraft before. I did not know what I was doing; I did not know that I could leave my seat on such a vehicle. That was through a school trip. I think we all have testimonies as to how valuable these can be.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 3.35 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.