More than £100m will be spent on the post-Brexit replacement of the Erasmus exchange programme for UK students next year, it has been announced.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the Turing scheme will provide funding for about 35,000 students to go on placements around the world from September.
The DfE said the scheme, named after Bletchley Park codebreaker Alan Turing, will cost £100m in 2021-22 but that funding for subsequent academic years will be set out in future spending reviews.
The government’s decision to end involvement in the European Union scheme has proved controversial, particularly as Boris Johnson had previously said Brexit did not threaten participation.
But the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “We now have the chance to expand opportunities to study abroad and see more students from all backgrounds benefit from the experience.
“We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom.”
The DfE said the new scheme will be targeted at students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
About 35,000 British students annually are said to study in the Erasmus programme, which the UK joined in 1987 to allow students to study and work across Europe.
The prime minister told MPs in January there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme and we will continue to participate in it”. But after negotiating a trade deal with Brussels, Johnson said that he had taken the “tough decision” to pull out of the scheme for financial reasons.
In response, SNP MP Douglas Chapman accused the prime minister of “lies and bluster”.
A senior member of the UK negotiating team earlier said remaining in Erasmus would have cost “in the hundreds of millions each year”.
“That was a significant cost and we believe we can achieve something better, still allowing exchanges to Europe but [which] allows exchanges around the world as well,” the official said. “That’s why that particular decision was taken and we believe it’s still going to offer huge opportunities for British students to study around the world in the future.”
Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International (UUKi), which promotes and represents UK universities abroad, said her organisation was “obviously disappointed” the UK would no longer be part of Erasmus, but described the Turing scheme as a “fantastic development”.
She said it must now be a “priority” to work internationally to sort the funding of foreign students studying in the UK under Erasmus.
“Inbound exchange students contributed £440m to the UK economy in 2018 and there are real concerns about whether the UK will see a decrease outside of the Erasmus scheme,” Stern added.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, previously described the decision to leave Erasmus as “cultural vandalism”, while former prime minister Gordon Brown also called for the UK to remain part of the scheme.
In Northern Ireland, third level college students will be able to continue studying under the Erasmus scheme after the Irish government agreed to fund them, said the Irish education minister, Simon Harris.
UK institutions will be asked to bid to join the Turing scheme in the new year. Successful applicants will receive funding for administering the scheme and students will receive grants to help cover the costs of studying abroad.
Source: The Guardian