It is now over nine years since I started blogging on this website on the need to encourage more British students to study or take up work placements abroad so they could absorb foreign culture and help to end the UK’s ‘love-hate’ relationship with our European partners.
The hope back in 2012 – and the reason I set up De la Cour Communications – was to help European Universities talk to UK stakeholders, especially students and those who advise them.
But things didn’t exactly go to plan with a referendum in 2016 leading to a small majority of Brits voting in favour of the UK leaving the European Union.
Perhaps I should have started my efforts earlier or seized control of the hapless campaign to remain in the EU fronted by wishy washy former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
But looking back to one of my earliest blogs ‘Outward-bound students win British champion’, published on May 16, 2012, much of what I was arguing for could have written yesterday.
Back then, I was heartened by the then British universities and science minister David Willetts’ enthusiastic support for a report titled ‘Recommendations to support UK Outward Student Mobility’ written by Professor Colin Riordan. The recommendations included a partial grant towards the extra cost of student mobility.
At the time, I said it could lead to a sea-change in the advice and guidance given to British students about going abroad for, at least, part of their degree.
As now, there was a lot of discussion about whether the UK was getting value-for-money from the EU’s Erasmus mobility programme.
One of the big issues in 2012 was how to fund the fee-waiver as English university tuition fees were due to rocket by three times to a maximum of £9,000-a-year while students in most EU countries were charged little or nothing to go into higher education.
There was also the issue of a huge imbalance between inward and outward student mobility, with the British Council ‘estimating’ in 2010 that while 33,000 UK students were studying abroad, 370,000 foreign students were studying in the UK.
Erasmus exchange students represented a fraction of both inbound and outbound students, but there were few other reliable statistics available for two-way student flows.
In 2009/10, there were just under 12,000 outgoing UK Erasmus students, compared with 31,158 students from Spain going abroad, via Erasmus, and 30,213 from France and 28,854 from Germany.
Many more European mainland students wanted to come to the UK for Erasmus placements and study than British ones wanting to taste living on the continent for a few months.
Although the gap has narrowed slightly in recent years, the latest figures for 2018/19 showed 18,305 outgoing students and trainees from the UK using the Erasmus+ scheme compared with 30,501 incoming students and trainees coming to the UK from other EU countries.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the Boris Johnson Conservative government sacrificed future UK participation in the latest Erasmus+ programme covering 2021-27 as part of a dash to get the Brexit withdrawal agreement completed in time for a self-imposed UK deadline before the start of this year.
In its place is what appeared at first to be a hastily arranged mobility scheme, named after the British war-time codebreaker Alan Turing, with £110 million set aside to cover outbound study and work placements for UK students. But nothing towards paying for foreign students wanting to come to the UK.
The Turing target is to get around 35,000 UK students going abroad for anything from a couple of weeks to a full-year in 2021/22.
The idea of just paying for outbound student mobility appears to be a major break with financing reciprocal flows and exchanges, which is so central to the European Erasmus+ mobility scheme.
But perhaps the UK pinched the idea from schemes like one offered by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), including one which I mentioned back in my 2012 blog. This supported 30,586 outbound German students in 2010 by providing a fully portable needs-based maintenance funding scheme (BAfög) and helped German-based students to study in other EU states and countries outside the EU.
A bit like some aspects of the UK Turing scheme!
Of course, the big difference is that Germany is also still in the Erasmus+ scheme which funds both inbound and outbound mobility.
One of the attractions of the Turing scheme is that it recognises that expanding student mobility must include widening the attraction of studying abroad away from the more privileged parts of society.
Thankfully, this also appears to be the thinking behind a recent study from Universities UK International (UUKi), titled ‘Short-term mobility: long-term impact’. This set out a range of ways to widen participation – with a big focus on the value of shorter study abroad programmes and organised group visits to other countries to give more UK students a taste of other cultures.
I’ve written a feature for University World News on the study and why there is a lot to recommend about shorter periods of mobility. See the article here.
* Main image: Brit Matt Burton and fellow study abroad students at Linköping University, Sweden in 2012