Don’t panic. I’m talking about education exchanges. And when I say “Turing”, I’m not talking about a £50 note writes Suzy Davies MS.
But I am going to begin by talking about 35.6 million of them.
That’s the net contribution the EU was asking from the UK Government for its young citizens to participate in the Erasmus+ scheme after the Brexit transition period. The net contribution. Paying in around €2billion more than we would be getting back out of it.
However attractive Erasmus+ is, that is a hefty sum just to get past the bouncers and into the club.
Full disclosure: I really wish the Erasmus scheme had been around when I was younger. Languages were my thing in school. In the ’80s when the EEC was the new Jerusalem, a degree in law and French seemed like a passport to an adventurous new future. I dropped the French almost immediately; so blandly functional compared to the English of the common law judiciary (remember, this is an 18-year old raised on the romance of Wordsworth and Saint-Exupery). The EEC law tutor almost dropped me when I proved unable to find a path through the concrete dullness of the subject to anything approaching achievement. I think he only kept me on because I told him he looked like Sean Connery.
So I am not here to have a go at Erasmus+. I’m here to say Turing can be better.
The Turing Scheme is the new international educational exchange scheme for the whole of the UK. It has a genuinely global reach, without the geographic limitations of Erasmus+.
Erasmus+ has been a wonderful, life changing experience for young people – even though participants from comfortable backgrounds are almost twice as likely to have been on the scheme than their disadvantaged fellow travellers. And even though the UK has contributed 12% of the Erasmus budget whilst only getting 8% of it back, thousands of have benefited from it. Not least UK universities, as twice as many Erasmus+ funded overseas participants have used the scheme to come here as we have been sending to the EU and partner countries. You can see why they are sad to see the relationship come to an end.
It needn’t have come to an end. There are other countries which can take part in certain Erasmus+ activities, subject to strict conditions and a big fee. The UK Government also tried to buy into some elements of the programme. Unfortunately, the EU wouldn’t go for it without the €2billion donation.
But, principally, regardless of who pays for what, the success of Erasmus+ has depended on highly valued inter-institutional relationships. On relationships between people, built on expertise and trust. And our universities in Wales should, after years of this arrangement, be confident that these relationships will survive because they have proven their value to all players.
What’s more, they should be able to show the rest of the world how valuable they are. This is shop window time, post-Brexit. And with both UK and Welsh Governments reaching out to emerging economies as well as the Commonwealth, our universities should use what Erasmus+ helped them build in order to use Turing to expand their reach too. It’s a big world.
The Turing scheme is not fully fleshed out yet so this is a good time for Welsh universities to get in and help craft the detail. And our Welsh colleges. And our schools.
What is clear, though, is that £100 million will fund around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September 2021 – Covid restrictions permitting. And I want a lot of them to come from Wales. We should do better than 7,000 participants in four years of Erasmus+ from 2014 to 2018.
And I don’t want Welsh education institutions spending too much time lamenting what they’ve lost. I want to see them at the front of the queue for Turing. Start preparing with international partners as soon as possible.
I also want to see them take the UK Government at its word by targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which didn’t previously have many students on Erasmus+. This should be about someone’s first trip abroad, not their latest.
The education chapter in our manifesto for the Welsh Parliament elections will be about levelling up. About different routes to excellence. Turing has to be as much about our vocational achievers as our traditional academic learners. And I’m laying down the gauntlet to our colleges on this one – make this work for you.
And I’ll tell any one of you look like Sean Connery if that’s what gets you to buy in and reap the reward for your students.
Suzy Davies is the Shadow Welsh Education, Skills and Welsh Language Minister and a Member of the Senedd for South Wales West.