The Department for Education’s flagship study abroad scheme should offer higher funding rates to its most disadvantaged students to widen participation, researchers have said.
An independent evaluation of the first year of the Turing scheme, the DfE’s replacement for the Erasmus scheme since 2021/22, was published today and revealed nine in 10 HE and FE participants were satisfied with their placement.
But researchers warned how several delivery issues had a “greater impact on participants from a disadvantaged background and may have created barriers to many participating”.
These included an initial lack of guarantees for funding, the amount of funding and the timing that it was delivered, which “disproportionately impact participation among disadvantaged groups,” the report said.
Researchers said that some students who could not afford the upfront costs or the risk of funding not being available further down the line meant they dropped out.
“From the participant perspective, many described receiving the funds while already on placement, or even after they had returned,” the report said.
It added that these participants acknowledged that without being “fortunate enough to have alternative funds (for example, from parents or saved up from working) to see them through, or to fall back on in case funding was not going to be available, they would not have been able to go on the placement”.
The researchers said the DfE should offer greater funding amounts for the most disadvantaged and bring the application window and confirmation of outcome window forward to combat this issue.
The government is planning to bring forward both dates for the academic year 24/25 application cycle compared to last year, FE Week understands.
The department should also “encourage providers to offer some funds to participants upfront (before placements have started)”, to ensure disadvantaged students have access to upfront funds for travel and to secure accommodation.
The Turing scheme was introduced in 2021 to “widen access to global opportunities” post-Brexit.
Around £110 million was committed in its first year to fund up to 35,000 placements, but various issues mainly due to Covid-19 meant only around 21,000 were run. Of the 6,800 placements planned for FE students, just two-thirds (68 per cent) went ahead.
Of the total 21,000 placements, almost two-fifths of participants were from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The scheme, first administered by the British Council and Ecorys until April 2022 when Capita took over, is now in its third year. Around 40,000 students are set to go on placements in 2023/24, 60 per cent of which are from disadvantaged background or underrepresented groups, according to government figures.
Minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education Robert Halfon said: “The Turing scheme is a real game-changer for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, empowering them with transformative opportunities abroad, a chance to experience other cultures and learn vital skills for life and work.
“It showcases our positive ambition post-Brexit, fostering a global outlook for more students who deserve every chance to thrive.”
The DfE was approached for further comment on the researchers’ call for higher funding rates for disadvantaged students.
Emma Meredith, director of skills policy and global engagement at the Association of Colleges, said colleges need clarity on student mobility funding beyond 2024/25.
“Two years down the line there are still factors within the scheme that limit mobility for colleges, including barriers to partnership development and the omission of staff mobility.
“We are also concerned about increasing demand on the scheme as legacy Erasmus+ funding has run down in addition to ongoing system issues which impact on Turing project management and payments.”
How much do FE students get to study abroad?
FE participants receive funding per day according to their destination. The funding rates have not changed for the three years the scheme has been running.
Group one destinations are deemed to have a high cost of living, such as the USA, Switzerland and Japan. Group two destinations include Finland, France and Brazil and group three entailed countries with a low cost of living such as Chile, China and Bangladesh.
For group one destinations, learners receive £109 per day for the first 14 days and £76 per day thereafter. Learners going to group two destinations receive £94 per day for the first 14 days and £66 per day thereafter. For group three destinations, learners are funded £80 per day for the first 14 days, and £56 per day thereafter.
Students in higher education are funded differently as they are likely to carry out longer placements.
HE students on four to eight weeks receive £545 per month for group one destinations and £480 per month for group two and three destinations. Those on placements lasting between nine weeks to twelve months will receive £380 per month for Group 1 destinations and £335 per month for Group 2 and 3 destinations.
The government’s researchers reported that both providers and participants said that the funding went some way in covering costs, but further funds from outside of the scheme were often needed.
Interviews found that a minority (45 per cent) of HE participants felt the funding covered at least half of their costs on placement; this compares to the vast majority (86 per cent) of FE participants. However, the researchers said the funding appears to have been more crucial for FE participants in terms of enabling them to go abroad in the first place. When asked the likelihood of going on placement in the absence of funding, only 23 per cent of FE participants said it was likely they would have, compared to 60 per cent of HE participants.