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UK update – no to Erasmus+, yes to Turing & search for creative solutions

At the end of December 2020 the news came that the UK and the EU failed to reach a compromise under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations to secure UK’s participation in the Erasmus+ programme post-Brexit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, contrary to reassurances given a year ago, that the UK was pulling out of the Erasmus+ programme as it deemed it to be too expensive for British taxpayers; it was launching its own programme instead – the Turing scheme, named after the mathematician Alan Turing. The scheme, marketed as an innovatively global one, is expected to be launched in September 2021, and is  to be equipped with a budget of GBP 100 million to support some 35 000 mobile students.  The proposed programme would fund only outgoing mobility.  

The decision to withdraw from Erasmus+ runs counter to not only Prime Minister’s own words, but also to an earlier report from the House of Lords EU Committee, which warned that the benefits of the Erasmus+ programme would be very difficult to replicate via a national programme, adding that that leaving Erasmus+ would "disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities". Surprisingly, it is precisely this target group that the Turing scheme aims to prioritize, though until now it is far from clear how exactly this will be acheived, especially with a lower budget than Erasmus+.  

Criticism and concern from the sector, both from within the UK and the European Union, abounds. Against the global ambitions of the Turing scheme, many actors point to the fact that Erasmus+ already funds mobility to and from non-European countries through the international credit mobility action, as well as through the long-established Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees. The one-way  nature of the scheme – delivering outbound mobility only – also came under heavy fire, for undermining a key  principle of short-term mobility, that of reciprocity. The lack of detail of the original announcement was also criticized; many questions remain around the timeline for the launch of the domestic scheme (first calls, evaluations, selection results), criteria and procedures, distribution of the budget between sectors (higher education, further education and schools), flexibility in funds allocations for HEIs, etc. 

The Irish government offered to fund the continued participation of students enrolled as full-time students at higher education institutions in Northern Ireland in Erasmus+.. Scotland and Wales are trying to negotiate their own continued participation. According to the Scottish government, more than 2 000 students and staff from Scotland use the Erasmus+ exchange programme each year. The Scottish Government announced it held "productive talks" with European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel to explore Scotland continuing in the Erasmus+ programme, and has already secured the support of 145 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who urged the European Commission to explore the idea. 

Many questions remain also on the Erasmus+ programme countries side regarding how they will fund mobility of their own students to the UK, a top destination for EU students. With the UK becoming de facto an Erasmus+ partner country, funded outgoing mobility from the EU (and EEA) to the UK would still be possible thanks to the international dimension of the programme, though the latter is unlikely to meet the demand.