Students ‘abandon overseas study scheme because of funding timeline’
University students were forced to abandon plans to study or work abroad due to a UK Government scheme’s “problematic” funding timeline, a report has suggested.
Many disadvantaged students may have been deterred from participating in the Turing Scheme – the UK Government’s post-Brexit replacement for the Erasmus+ exchange programme – amid an uncertainty around funding, according to the research.
An evaluation of the first year of the Turing Scheme (2021-22) said universities had difficulty with the application process and many found the timing of funding outcomes “problematic”.
Most higher education providers said they received the outcome of their funding applications in July – the summer holidays – and some felt this left “very little time” to prepare.
The report by IFF Research highlighted that participants taking a year abroad often needed to leave in July or August, before they knew whether financial support would be available.
It said: “There was a general view that some delivery issues raised had a greater impact on participants from a disadvantaged background and may have created barriers to many participating.
“Providers said that the timing of when application outcomes were confirmed (ie, after many participants would have had to already commit to their placement abroad) meant some who could not afford the upfront cost or the risk of funding not being available down the line dropped out.”
The report, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), said many participants described receiving the funds while already on placement, or even after they had returned.
It said: “This was particularly challenging for participants who needed upfront costs to secure housing or for initial travel, which could be expensive.
“Many described worrying a lot before funding (and the amount they would receive) was confirmed, and then struggling with day-to-day living costs while waiting for funding to come through.”
The report called on the DfE to bring forward the application window and confirmation of outcome window, and encourage providers to offer some funds to learners before placements start.
It added that the DfE should consider greater funding amounts for the most disadvantaged, who may not have additional funds to contribute.
The Turing Scheme, now in its third year, allows students from universities, colleges and schools in the UK to study and work in more than 160 countries and territories.
Government figures suggest 60% of the placements approved for funding in the 2023/24 academic year were participants from disadvantaged backgrounds or underrepresented groups.
Robert Halfon, minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education, said: “The Turing Scheme is a real game-changer for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, empowering them with transformative opportunities abroad, a chance to experience other cultures and learn vital skills for life and work.
“It showcases our positive ambition post-Brexit, fostering a global outlook for more students who deserve every chance to thrive.
“Young people benefit from inspirational placements around the world, not just Europe, building the confidence and skills they need for their future, whilst bolstering the Government’s drive for a Global Britain.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “This report highlights big issues with the Turing Scheme, so the Government needs to stop spinning and start listening to concerns from providers and participants.
“Almost four in five universities found the application process difficult. Meanwhile, many participants did not get any funding until after their placements started – this risks shutting down access to the scheme, especially for working-class students.”
She added: “The Government must act swiftly to address concerns and ensure additional financial support is available to students who need it to access the scheme.”
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