“I was taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” said Alyn Smith, shadow SNP spokesperson for Europe and EU ascension. This is why, Smith then added, he had very little to say on the Turing Scheme at an event organised by the Young European Movement (YEM).
The roundtable launched YEM’s campaign, in partnership with the European Movement UK and the British Youth Council, calling for the government to reopen negotiations to rejoin Erasmus, the original scheme which allowed British students to study in Europe and vice-versa.
Nathalie Louseau MEP, chair of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, and Maurizio Cuttin, UK young ambassador to the European Youth Forum and Advisor to the rapporteur of the European Economic and Social Committee’s EU-UK Follow-up Committee, also joined the debate. So far, YEM’s petition has over 2,000 signatories, including London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Despite pre-referendum promises that the scheme would be safe, the UK abruptly left Erasmus as part of the Brexit deal in 2020, with Boris Johnson citing in his infamous Christmas Eve press conference that it was “too expensive” and a “net loss for Britain”. Since then, the number of European students studying in the UK has collapsed, funding for the youth sector has fallen and Britain’s cultural connection to its neighbours is waning. At the launch, Smith claimed that had this been laid out by the Leave campaign from the off-set, Brexit would never have occurred.
In its place, the government promised that the Turing Scheme, the £110m study and travel programme named after the father of modern computer science, Alan Turing, would be a viable replacement. “This is not the case. It offers fewer maintenance grants and less funding. UK students have much more limited opportunities to go abroad, and the programme has no reciprocality,” said Stella Mavropoulou, head of YEM’s international affairs and partnerships.
University administrators say that the Turing Scheme has been plagued with problems since its commencement in 2021. Extensive red tape, financial delays and hand-to-mouth funding have left young people on the programme in the dark about what they are entitled to. It’s even deterred students from less affluent backgrounds from applying at all.
The government has also only committed to funding the scheme until 2024/25 and there are a lot of raised eyebrows over whether funding will continue beyond this point. This is why YEM is calling on the government to rethink this decision from 2020.
“Our young people need the government to act on Erasmus,” explains Art O’Mahony, YEM officer. “Restoring Britain’s place in the Erasmus+ Programme would unlock millions in additional funding for our schools and universities, allowing students to study once more and travel across Europe. We believe this is a vital step in retaining Britain’s standing in the world and upholding the world renown of our universities.”
You can sign the YEM’s petition here.