One of the joys of Brexit is that everyone has their own version, their own Thing That It’s All About.
For many in British universities, that Thing has been the weakening of links with the EU for student exchanges. Yes, the government did keep participation in research funding programmes like Horizon Europe, but not involvement in Erasmus+, the EU’s scheme that allows for exchange years.
The argument at the back end of last year, when this was all being negotiated, was that it would have meant a commitment to a full cycle of EU financial planning, through to 2027, and more students come into the UK than go out from it, so it costs money. Oddly, that didn’t seem to be a problem for the Horizon Europe side of things, which uses the same cycle.
But not to worry, said the government, we’ll replace Erasmus+ with something just as good, and actually even better, because it’ll be more open to the world.
And now, three months later, that replacement arrives: the Turing scheme.
I’ll let you read the website, but the key points are these:
In essence, it’s Erasmus+, but without the bits that make it attractive. And without the huge list of partners that have made Erasmus+ as much of a success as it has been, across Europe.
Put differently, Turing is just a bit of money to support students who want to study overseas, assuming they can find somewhere to study, and with no option to allow overseas students to come back into the UK.
Of course, much of the irrationality of this is bound up in the politics of Brexit, the need to do things by ourselves: Paul James Cardwell has written very well on this. But that doesn’t change the inanity of the move, in practical terms.
As I often note to students, politics is about relationships: you can’t do politics to yourself. That basic point should be even more obvious when it comes to something like an exchange programme, where the existence of other parties is something of a sine qua non.
I’m sure that Turing will be used, mainly because it’s better than nothing, but that shouldn’t hide the relative disconnecting of British HE from the rest of the world. And it should invite us to consider whether there isn’t a better, less costly way of doing things together.