Wales sets up its own Erasmus programme

Exchange scheme will ‘fill the gaps’ left by Boris Johnson’s Turing programme, which ‘lacks key benefits’

Wales is to go it alone from the rest of the UK and establish its own version of the Erasmus education exchange programme, saying it will “fill the gaps” left by the replacement Turing scheme drawn up by Boris Johnson’s government in Westminster.

The UK government withdrew from the EU’s Erasmus scheme, which offered student exchanges as well as school links and work experience, as part of its Brexit deal struck last year. But the Welsh government says the new Turing programme lacks key benefits that made Erasmus so valuable for young people.

Mark Drakeford, Wales’s first minister, said his government plans to spend £65m on the new “international learning exchange” to enable Welsh institutions to continue with reciprocal staff and students exchanges that took place under Erasmus but won’t do so under Turing.

“Spending time studying, volunteering or on work placements abroad broadens horizons, expands key skills and brings benefits to communities and organisations here in Wales. We are determined to ensure that young people across our country benefit from these opportunities,” Drakeford said.

“This is a downpayment on our young people’s futures, offering opportunities to all, from all backgrounds. Securing these opportunities is particularly important in the context of the difficulties experienced by young people and learners across Wales as a result of the pandemic.”

Leaders in Wales and Scotland had been dismayed by the end of Erasmus membership when it was announced in December. Scotland lobbied the EU for continued membership but its hopes were quashed last month by Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, who told MEPs that, as a “constituent nation” of the UK, Scotland could not rejoin. Students studying at institutions in Northern Ireland can take part in Erasmus thanks to an arrangement with the Irish government.

Welsh institutions will still be able to take part in the UK-wide Turing scheme, which will be funded by £105m for its first year starting in September, paying administrative and living costs of those taking part.

But unlike Erasmus+ during Britain’s membership, Turing funding will not be reciprocal, meaning that international partner institutions will not be supported for any exchanges coming to the UK.

Another key difference is that the Turing scheme does not pay the tuition fees for studying at international partners, which critics say will penalise students from disadvantaged backgrounds. And the Turing scheme does not extend to staff exchanges.

In contrast, the Welsh government said its scheme would “support, as far as possible, the entire range of activities that have been available to learners in Wales” under Erasmus+.

Kirsty Williams, Wales’ education minister, said: “We have been clear that international exchange programmes, which bring so many benefits to participants, as well as their education providers and wider community, should build on the excellent opportunities that the Erasmus programme offered.

“We owe it to this next generation of students and learners to have the same opportunities previous years had.”

Cardiff University will be responsible for delivering the new scheme over the next year, through an advisory board drawn from the education sector, with exchanges beginning in 2022.

The new programme “will then fill the gaps Turing leaves, including, crucially, the commitment to long-term funding, the retention of the principle of two-way exchanges and the inclusion of youth work,” the Welsh government said.

Guy Lacey, the chair of ColegauCymru and principal of Coleg Gwent FE college, said he was pleased by the announcement: “The value of international exchange programmes has long been known in the FE sector, providing opportunities to broaden the horizons of its participants which in turn gives a positive impact on individuals, colleges and the wider community.”


Richard Adams Education Editor

The GuardianTramp

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