British students hit by travel scheme delays after Brexit

When Ana Anajuba moved to Paris last September, she hoped to study at the Sorbonne, perfect her French and find a job in journalism. Waiting for a grant payment from the UK government was not on her list.

However, six weeks into her year abroad, the student was digging into savings on rent and tube fares while chasing a scholarship from the Turing Programme, the £110m travel and study program that replaced Erasmus+ after Britain left the the EU.

“The first two months were very difficult,” he said. “I thought, if I get food today, will I be able to pay for this other thing I have to do?”

Anajuba’s case is far from unique, according to university administrators, who said the Turing program has been plagued by problems since it began in 2021.

Cumbersome paperwork, payment delays and hand-to-mouth funding have left young people in the program stuck without money and excluded poorer students from traveling altogether, they said.

“Students are waiting very, very late to get funding and sometimes they’re still waiting even after they’ve been placed,” said James Illingworth, the chair of the year abroad group at the University Council of Modern Languages, an organization that promotes the languages. in the UK.

The Turing scheme, run by the giant Capita, promises to fund ‘life-changing’ study or work abroad for students and young people, with part of the budget earmarked for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The government has so far committed to funding the scheme until 2024-2025, but universities said the scheme’s annual grant system meant the money arrived too late, leaving students unable to fully prepare for placements.

Turing replaced the EU’s much larger Erasmus+ programme, which had an annual budget of €3.9 billion to fund academic exchanges within the EU at all levels. It supported students moving from a UK university to a university on the continent and vice versa, and operated seven-year funding cycles that enabled long-term planning.

In 2020, Erasmus+ funded 649 UK projects in schools, universities, colleges and other youth programs with grants totaling €144 million, according to the European Commission, with Spain, France and Germany the top countries for UK students

The government said a “direct comparison” between Turing and Erasmus was “not possible” as the two had “significant differences in scope”. Turing, for example, has funded shorter four-week placements and trips outside the EU.

However, for universities, which received the majority of available funding in both programs, this means a reduction in the percentage of cash they receive.

This year, the total amount of Turing funding made available to higher education providers was £62m, up from £67m in 2021-22. Of the 150 higher education providers that applied for funding, 131 were successful.

Several universities said they had received between 35 percent and 45 percent of what they had requested. The University of Newcastle received almost £200,000 less this year than last year as the grant was reduced from £1.45m to £1.26m.

Richard Davies, who heads international strategy at Newcastle, said the lack of guaranteed funding meant universities were “automatically discriminating” against poorer applicants, even though encouraging more people from less privileged backgrounds is an explicit aim of the scheme.

“We cannot give certainty. . . and that hits the less well-off – students who can’t raise money for visas, for flights without knowing they have the money,” he said.

A system where universities re-apply for money every year, with institutions making requests in February but only receiving their allocation in the summer holidays, doesn’t work for university students, who usually organize placements abroad for more than a year earlier.

“I can’t tell them yet whether they will get a grant, whether we will get a grant and how much it will be,” said Fiona Ashmore, senior study abroad officer at the University of Leicester. “There is no confidence that there will be that support.”

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK, which represents the sector, said providers were happy with many aspects of the scheme but were concerned about the sharp decline in funding for higher education.

“We also understand that there have been administrative difficulties, including students not receiving funds as expected,” he said. “This, unfortunately, has created challenges for universities and students.”

Universities said Turing’s reporting requirements were more onerous than for Erasmus, increasing delays in allocating funding and wasting staff time. They added that Capita’s online portal was dysfunctional and difficult to use.

“It’s basically an incredibly time-consuming program in terms of, in particular, reporting,” Ashmore added. A student travel expert who worked at Turing said the funding release was “micro-managing”, creating “a nightmare” for universities.

Capita said it was proud of the work of managing the Turing programme, but added that applications had increased significantly in 2022-2023 and there was dedicated support to answer queries from applicants.

“Feedback from universities and other institutions remains important to us as we continue to strengthen and improve our administrative processes,” the company said.

The Department for Education said the Turing scheme would support more than 38,000 students in 160 destinations this year, adding that it had created “life-changing opportunities” for UK students to get places in the rest of Europe and around the world.

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