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When Ana Anajuba moved to Paris last September, she had hoped to study at the Sorbonne, perfect her French and land a job in journalism. Waiting for a grant payment from the UK government was not on her bucket list.

Yet six weeks into her year abroad, the university student was digging into savings for rent and metro fares, while chasing up a bursary from the Turing scheme, the £110mn travel and study programme that replaced Erasmus+ after Britain left the EU.

“For the first couple of months it was really hard,” she said. “I was thinking, if I get food today will I be able to pay for this other thing I need to do?”

Anajuba’s case is far from unique, according to university administrators who said the Turing scheme has been plagued by problems since launching in 2021.

Onerous bureaucracy, payment delays and hand-to-mouth funding have left young people on the programme stranded without money and excluded poorer students from travel altogether, they said.

“Students are waiting very, very late to get funding, and are sometimes still waiting even after they have gone on a placement,” said James Illingworth, the chair of the year abroad group at the University Council of Modern Languages, an organisation promoting languages in the UK.

The Turing scheme, administered by the outsourcing giant Capita, promises to fund “life-changing” study or work abroad for students and young people, with a proportion of the budget set aside for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The government has only so far committed to fund the scheme until 2024-25, but universities said the scheme’s system of annual allocations meant money was arriving too late, leaving students unable to fully prepare for placements.

Turing replaced the EU’s much larger Erasmus+ programme, which had an annual budget of €3.9bn to fund intra-EU academic exchanges at all levels. It supported students moving from a UK university to one on the continent and vice versa, and operated seven-year funding cycles that enabled long-term planning.

In 2020, Erasmus+ funded 649 UK projects at schools, universities, colleges and other youth programmes with grants totalling €144mn, according to the European Commission, with Spain, France and Germany the top countries for UK students.

The government said a “direct comparison” between Turing and Erasmus was “not possible” given the two had “significant differences in scope”. Turing, for example, has funded shorter four-week placements and travel outside the EU.

However, for universities, which received a majority of funding available in both schemes, it has meant a fall in the proportion of cash they receive.

This year, the total amount of Turing funding allocated to higher education providers was £62mn, down from £67mn in 2021-22. Of the 150 higher education providers that applied for funding, 131 were successful.

Several universities said they had received between 35 per cent and 45 per cent of what they had requested. Newcastle University was given nearly £200,000 less this year than last year, as its grant fell from £1.45mn to £1.26mn.

Richard Davies, who leads on international strategy at Newcastle, said the lack of guaranteed funding meant universities were “automatically discriminating” against poorer applicants, even though encouraging more people from less advantaged backgrounds is an explicit aim of the scheme.

“We can’t give certainty . . . and that disadvantages the less well off — students who can’t stump up the money for visas, for flights without knowing they have the money,” he said.

A system where universities reapply for money each year, with institutions submitting requests in February but only receiving their allocation in the summer holidays, does not work for university students, who typically arrange overseas placements more than a year ahead.

“I still can’t tell them whether they’ll get any grant, if we’ll get any grant, and how much that will be,” said Fiona Ashmore, senior study abroad officer at the University of Leicester. “There’s no confidence there will be that support.”

Jamie Arrowsmith, director of Universities UK, which represents the sector, said providers were happy with many aspects of the scheme, but they were concerned at rapidly declining funding for higher education.

“We also understand that there have been administrative difficulties, including students not receiving funds as anticipated,” he said. “This has, unfortunately, created challenges for universities and for students.”

Universities said Turing’s reporting requirements were more onerous than for Erasmus, increasing delays in allocating funding and wasting staff time. They added that Capita’s online portal was glitchy and difficult to use.

“It’s essentially an incredibly time-intensive programme when it comes, in particular, to reporting,” Ashmore added. One student travel specialist who worked on Turing said the release of funding was “micromanaged”, creating “a nightmare” for universities.

Capita said it was proud of its work administering the Turing programme, but added that applications had increased substantially in 2022-23 and dedicated support was in place to answer queries from applicants.

“Feedback from universities and other institutions remains important to us, as we continue to strengthen and improve our administrative processes,” the company said.

The Department for Education said the Turing scheme would support more than 38,000 students in 160 destinations this year, adding it created “life-changing opportunities” for UK students to take up placements in the rest of Europe and all over the world.


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#British #university #students #hit #delays #postBrexit #travel #scheme

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