The UK has left the Erasmus Programme after the end of the Brexit transition period on 31st December 2020Louis Ashworth

On 1st January 2021, the UK officially left the Erasmus Programme after negotiations between the UK and EU failed to reach an agreement as to any form of British participation post-Brexit.

The Erasmus Programme, founded in 1987, has enabled cross-border academic exchange in the EU and beyond, having helped over 3.3 million students to study abroad as of the end of the 2013-14 academic year. 

The Prime Minister announced that in its place the UK would establish the Turing Scheme, named after codebreaker Alan Turing, which would allow students to travel all around the world. 

According to the government’s website, the Turing Scheme will “target students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which did not previously have many students benefiting from Erasmus+” and “will include countries across the world.”

The Turing scheme will be backed by over £100 million, providing funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September 2021.

At the University of Cambridge, which counts both Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch theologian after whom the programme was named, and Alan Turing as alumni, the decision has led some to question the government’s decision. 

In a statement given to Varsity, University figures show that 1,706 students undertook a period of study or traineeship under the Erasmus Programme between 2009/10-2019/20. A further 1,045 students travelled to Cambridge during the same time period.

In 2019/20, 180 Cambridge students participated while 79 came to study at Cambridge.

At Cambridge, only undergraduates from Modern and Medieval Languages (MML), Engineering, Law and Physics could participate in the programme.

Dr Geoffrey Kantaris, Co-Chair of the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics, told Varsity that “Cambridge MML and HML students have benefitted enormously from Erasmus, as have the many European students who have come to our Faculty to study for a year.”

“Erasmus was the backbone of our Year Abroad, enabling wide participation in a range of approved activities, principally University study and work placements. The benefits are not just linguistic, but also help students to expand their horizons culturally. The fact that Erasmus students received a monthly payment enabled them to enjoy the benefits of living and studying abroad regardless of socio-economic background.”

One of these students was Esmee Wright, who last year travelled to ENS Paris on the Erasmus+ Programme. She told Varsity that the programme “gave me the flexibility to explore a city I had long adored from a distance, and the free access to many, many museums was something I made great use of.”

“Coming from an area where people sometimes don't move further than the next street, Erasmus as part of whatever degree I did was long held as a promise of something more, and losing access to it was a huge fear.”

Natasha Dangoor, a third year MML student currently in Paris, told Varsity that “The Erasmus grant has enabled me to help cover the costs of living abroad which can otherwise be tricky (especially in Paris).”

 Dr Kantaris noted that an additional benefit was that “inbound Erasmus students enriched our community through exchange of ideas and experiences.”

One of the gaps that has been identified in the new Turing Scheme is that it fails to fund students coming to the UK. 

Speaking to Varsity, Labour MP for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner said “The key difference is that any new scheme is one-way, and does not support people coming here. That is a huge loss to us, as over time, that is how we build networks through goodwill and influence, so it is an act of foolish self-harm.”

This criticism of the Turing Scheme as “one-way” was echoed by Professor Mary Beard on Twitter.

One student who came to Cambridge from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn in Germany last year was Mayu Uno. She told Varsity that the Erasmus+ Programme “enabled me to study at a world-class university, financing the tuition fees for the entirety of my stay and providing a monthly grant to help cover the cost of living.” 

However, she noted that “Erasmus+, first and foremost, represents an intercultural exchange, enabling thousands of students each year to experience different European cultures and customs and to form meaningful friendships which might last a lifetime. For me, the college grew to be my home and my new-found friends quickly became family. After a year of Cambridge formals, essay deadlines and more, I would not like to do without my friends at Fitzwilliam and all the experiences that inspired my personal growth.”

She added that she was “extremely grieved over the many students, both in the United Kingdom and in Europe, who will not be able to broaden their academic and personal horizon that easily in the foreseeable future”. 

One of the promises of the Turing scheme is that it will allow British students to travel to the top universities in the world. The Prime Minister said on launching the scheme that “students will have the opportunity not just to go to European universities, but the best universities in the world.”


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Dr Kantaris noted that the scheme is aiming at “global exchanges with leading world universities, including Anglophone universities (USA, Australia, Canada). If the scheme is truly global and can encompass Latin America and Russia [areas that were excluded from Erasmus], for example, as well as Europe, then it could certainly be of benefit to our students.” 

However, Dr Kantaris told Varsity that “As a languages Faculty, we are worried about some of the signalling which suggests that the Turing scheme could prioritize Anglophone exchanges.”

He added “we strongly believe that there are few experiences so rewarding in life as seeing a language you are learning come alive while being immersed fully in the daily life and culture of a country where that language is spoken. So long as the Turing scheme continues to enable such exchanges, we will be happy to engage with it.”

Those who spoke to Varsity noted the lack of published details about the Turing Scheme. The House of Lords European Union Committee published a report in 2019 suggesting that “it would be a formidable challenge to try to replicate at a national level the substantial benefits of the EU’s programmes for research and innovation and international mobility.”

Both Mary Beard and Daniel Zeichner have raised question marks over the vague details of the Turing Scheme. 

Zeichner told Varsity that “It is also likely that the money announced for the successor scheme will be insufficient, as everything has to be duplicated, so is more wasteful and much more expensive.”

Related to expense, Mary Beard, in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, pointed out that the funding for the Turing Scheme averages out at under £3000 per recipient. “I wonder how many useful international placements you get for that”, she wrote. 

This is particularly relevant given the claims that the Turing Scheme is aimed primarily at disadvantaged students

The final point expressed was the symbolism of the Erasmus Programme. Marvin Walter, who came to Cambridge last year on the Erasmus Programme, said that “Erasmus furthers an European identity by bringing together young people from many different countries. I have no doubt that many of the people I met in Cambridge will be my lifelong friends – and that can only be a good thing in an age of increasing isolationism and disrupted international relations.”