There are some logistical challenges to an international placements scheme during the pandemic, but they’re solveable, writes Sam Parrett
With Brexit spelling the end of the successful Erasmus scheme for the UK, the launch of the Turing Scheme as a replacement was positive news.
Under the scheme, the government funds international placements between two weeks and 12 months long. FE applicants receive up to £1,360 for travel costs and up to £109 per day for living costs.
Unlike Erasmus, the funding is available to go anywhere in the world that a college can set up a partnership. There is no funding available for a return trip from students in the host country to come to the UK: they must secure that funding from their own governments.
However, for us the Turing Scheme is set to be a really important part of our mission to help our students develop a range of employability, communication and social skills. We did not previously belong to Erasmus, so this is our first move into international placements.
But with a global pandemic, we’ve had to find a way to get the programme up and running.
We also know that uptake in FE has varied. In August the Department for Education revealed 110 further providers had won £22 million of funding. But £35 million had been allocated to FE, meaning not all the money was dished out.
The DfE also anticipated 10,000 FE students would be involved. However, colleges applied for funding to cover only 6,000 students.
Here’s how we overcame some challenges, so you can too.
We have initially focused on establishing our programme within Europe; utilising country contacts we already have, with partners we can trust. This will ensure high quality placements in Dublin in Ireland, Seville and Valencia in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal and Larnaca in Cyprus. We plan to develop further partnerships outside of Europe over the course of this year.
Six groups of 20 students (120 in total) will participate in the first year. Placements will happen between February and July 2022, with each one lasting two weeks, plus a six-week placement in the summer.
These students will undertake placements in vocational skills sectors, including cybersecurity, digital marketing, healthcare and early years.
Our students were identified for placements via their vocational area, and their profiles shared with relevant employers in the target countries. Over the next three months a member of our college placement team will visit the employers in each country.
This will help us to ensure their safety and agree on working practices.
The benefits to every student will be immense – albeit not quite on the ambitious global scale we would have aimed for pre-Covid. But that will come.
And by building our programme in a realistic way during extraordinary times, we are giving ourselves the scope to expand.
Positively, 57 per cent of the 120 learners going on placements this year are from disadvantaged groups, of which 10 per cent are from SEND groups. This is higher than the government expectation of 48 per cent of disadvantaged students.
In terms of logistics, managing a multi-country placement programme requires local, specialist knowledge and high levels of quality assurance. Each of our partners has a track record of working with UK VET organisations.
Our head of student placements manages the relationships with partners. With their team, they will accompany the trips physically “in country” as well as coordinate arrangements.
It is a shame that not more colleges are currently taking part
We are keen to establish links further afield in time and hope to work with the Association of Colleges to develop these once we have scoped out this early work.
It is a shame that not more colleges are currently taking part. It is perhaps due in part to the concerns over travel in the current climate.
So although the full scope of the scheme can’t currently be maximised, with careful planning colleges can still hugely broaden our students’ horizons.
At a time when young people have missed out on so many important experiences, educators must now work harder than ever to help fill gaps wherever possible.