Turing funding comes “too late” to widen participation

 In News

Universities must think creatively about how to get the best value for money out of the Turing Scheme amid a “grim” fiscal environment, UK Department of Education deputy director told study abroad staff at conference on May 2.

Responding to ongoing concerns from UK universities about the Turing Scheme’s funding model preventing widening participation in study abroad, Lya Noon deputy director of the DofE told university staff that she had heard their frustrations “loud and clear” and would put the “best possible business case” forward to ministers.

The Turing Scheme was introduced in 2021 as the UK’s equivalent to the EU’s Erasmus+ exchange program, providing funding for students to study abroad with a particular focus on disadvantaged students.

However, delegates of Universities UK’s 2024 International Higher Education Forum expressed frustration that Turing funding comes too late in the year, deterring students without their own savings from applying for study abroad programs without the guarantee of funding before the course begins.

“My colleagues are getting increasingly nervous about saying anything about Turing because they don’t know if there’s enough money for students. So, all they can say is that there’s a possibility of funding but that doesn’t help,” said Gabriele Vosseberg, Newcastle University associate dean global.

Turing is run on a single-year funding model, which means the amount of funding universities receive fluctuates year to year, leading to financial uncertainty for institutions and students and requiring universities to reapply every year.

Universities UK has been calling for several years for the current project cycle to be shifted to a multi-year funding model to better support widening participation goals and to reduce the burden on universities.

Noon told delegates that concerns about Turing’s funding timeline were at the “top of the DofE’s policy challenges” and expressed a desire to hold further discussions with universities and students.

“We will put the best possible case forward to give you more flexibility when it comes to funding streams, but at the end of the day we’re civil servants and we put the advice together for ministers who ultimately decide.

“The fiscal environment is quite grim across government, and I don’t think that’s going to change regardless of who is in government next year,” said Noon.

“The fiscal environment is quite grim across government, and I don’t think that’s going to change regardless of who is in government next year”

According to stakeholders in the room, Turing funding is insufficient to cover a student’s whole study abroad experience, leaving a significant shortfall for universities to fund internally.

“The extent to which universities can subsidise study abroad is decreasing. Newcastle University does have the capacity, but it requires an argument, and with the financial difficulties facing the sector, study abroad will be less and less prioritised.

“We need to change our approach to how we organise internationalisation opportunities for students. Our four-year model with one year abroad is going to die very soon because fewer students can afford to go abroad for one year,” Vosseberg told The PIE.

Additionally, Turing’s requirement of at least four weeks of mobility makes it difficult for widening participation students who are more likely to have commitments such as family, caring responsibilities and jobs, said stakeholders.

This is particularly true at London Metropolitan University, where the student body is made up of 97% widening participation students, 92% socioeconomically disadvantaged students, almost 70% mature students and a large proportion of carers.

“Given the demographics, we normally send no more than 15 students a year abroad,” said London Met director of student recruitment Jennifer Wilkinson.

“Last year, we paid 10 of them to go and work at one of our partner’s conferences in the US, so it was expensive, but it’s the biggest group mobility project we’ve ever run and the outcomes were fantastic, within three months of the program, six of the 10 students had full time jobs.

“And these were all wp students who had never been abroad before, so the value of that experience was huge, and its an example of how we can think creatively about understanding what kind of mobility is most impactful for different kinds of students,” said Wilkinson.

Other suggestions put forward included being able to split funding between more than one student and to fund accompanying staff members for students who might be hesitant to go abroad.

The DoE was also open to discussing the need for central funding for virtual mobility, virtual exchange and COIL to help widen participation and sustainability goals, according to Chris Whitehead, Newcastle University dean global.

Despite the frustration of some stakeholders over the lack of answers from the DoE, Noon said the department was committed to creating a “higher trust environment with more flexibility and clearer rules”.

“It’s a real priority for me to eek out every last pound from the Turing program so it goes into the pockets of students.”

The post Turing funding comes “too late” to widen participation appeared first on The PIE News.

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