In December 2020, as the last details of the withdrawal agreement were being ironed out by the European Union and the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would soon leave the Erasmus exchange programme after months of uncertainty, in favour of a brand-new scheme supposedly better-suited to English students. But will the Prime Minister’s plan deliver as he promised?
After two months, the UK Department for Education came up with their new student exchange programme: Erasmus is dead, long live the Turing Scheme. As soon as it was presented, the scheme was met with disappointment and heavy criticism as journalists and academics couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the new scheme and its predecessor. Unlike Erasmus, the Turing Scheme will not cover university fees, nor will it offer travel cost support to all recipients. The monthly allowance, intended to cover all costs of living, will also considerably smaller than the one given by the EU. In all categories, the Turing Scheme fails to meet expectations.
The elitism at the heart of the scheme is impossible to deny; in the past, the government has criticised Erasmus for being a middle-class project, so the irony of this new, less generous scheme, intended to be a class-leveller, will doubtless not be lost on students. The simple notion that university fees are not covered means that thousands of people will have to individually assess the cost of each destination, making it more difficult to access than the previous Erasmus scheme. That, added to the big reduction of financial support for all students, condemns the vast majority to kiss their Erasmus dreams goodbye while the most privileged ones will have no trouble enjoying Europe on mummy and daddy’s money. The beauty of Erasmus, the reason I defend it so passionately, is that it allowed students from all backgrounds to take a year out and discover other cultures without having to worry about getting into debt. Removing financial aids will make the year abroad a cute detour for the few, not the many. The gentrification of the year abroad is utterly alarming for British universities and their students. Who knows how a department like PoLIS will manage to make language courses attractive now that the Erasmus incentive is gone…
As an Erasmus student myself, I find it heart-breaking to see MPs blatantly lie to their constituents, claiming that this new scheme is better than Erasmus, when all signs prove otherwise. Students have already suffered enough during this global pandemic and removing one of the best opportunities they have in higher education is like rubbing salt in an open wound. At a time when we should be building bridges, this decision feels like it will only detach the UK further from the continent.
The irony of naming a mediocre student exchange programme after the incredible Alan Turing isn’t lost on me either. A man who was persecuted for his sexuality, and pardoned 59 years later, does not deserve to have his legacy tarnished further by an isolationist government.
The Turing Scheme sadly embodies the post-Brexit years that are now in full swing. Replacing functioning EU schemes with an inferior solution goes to show that Britain’s future isn’t as bright as was promised. But above all else, it’s truly a knife in the back for languages students all across the UK. We deserve better.