On 22 July 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate the following:

The Earl of Clancarty (Crossbench) to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the value of cultural and education exchanges for (1) students, and (2) others who may benefit from such exchanges.

What are exchange programmes?

Exchange programmes are defined as arrangements where individuals from different countries visit each other’s country. Programmes commonly have an education or cultural focus. The aims of these programmes can include strengthening links between individuals and improving foreign language skills.

There are many educational and cultural exchange programmes in existence. For example, the Inter-Cultural Youth Exchange (ICYE) is a charity that enables young people to join international volunteer programmes in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. ICYE promotes “intercultural understanding, equality of opportunity, justice and peace among people in the world”.

In 2019, the Government announced a £2.5 million international exchange programme. This enabled schools in England to apply for grants to take pupils aged 11 and above to visit partner schools around the world. The programme was principally focused on supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds and ran in partnership with the British Council.

Erasmus+ is a widely known international educational exchange programme in Europe. Erasmus+ is an EU programme that aims to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. It offers mobility and cooperation opportunities in areas such as higher education, school education and adult education, amongst others.

In the UK, Erasmus+ was overseen by the Department for Education and managed by the UK National Agency. However, following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Government argued that UK participation in Erasmus+ was no longer in the interests of the UK taxpayer. Instead, the Government announced that the Turing Scheme would replace the UK’s involvement in Erasmus+.

In January 2021, the Government confirmed that funding for projects that were successfully bid for during the 2014‒20 Erasmus+ programme would still continue. This includes projects that run beyond the end of the transition period. These terms formed part of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the UK and the EU.

Following the UK Government’s decision to withdraw from Erasmus+, the Scottish and Welsh governments issued a joint statement highlighting their dissatisfaction with the decision. The Welsh Government announced a new international learning exchange programme on 21 March 2021. The programme is due to run from 2022 to 2026. It aims to enable 15,000 participants from Wales to go on overseas mobility exchanges, with 10,000 participants coming to study or work in Wales.

What is the Turing Scheme?

The Turing Scheme is a new UK government scheme, launched this year, that provides funding for international opportunities in education and training. It enables individuals in the UK to study or experience work placements across the world.

Funding for placements is available to organisations, based in the UK or British overseas territories, from the education and training sector. This includes schools, universities and further education colleges.

The Turing Scheme is backed by £110 million. In its first year, this should provide funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas. These placements will start in September 2021.

The Cabinet Office’s background notes to the 2021 Queen’s Speech said that the scheme supports the Government’s long-term ambitions for a “Global Britain”:

[…] [the Turing scheme] represents an opportunity for young people across the UK, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to work and study across the world, as we build back stronger.

The Government said that the scheme has a global reach, compared to Erasmus+ which is EU-focused.

Announcing the scheme, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, said:

We have designed a truly international scheme which is focused on our priorities, delivers real value for money and forms an important part of our promise to level up the United Kingdom. These opportunities will benefit both our students and our employers, as well as strengthening our ties with partners across the world.

What impact do exchange programmes have on participants?

Universities UK International published a report in 2017 on the impact of mobility during undergraduate degree programmes. It compared the academic attainment and employment outcomes of students who were mobile during their studies (ie had international experiences as part of a UK undergraduate programme) against those who did not. The findings were based on 225,880 UK-domiciled first-degree graduates of the 2014/15 academic year who responded to the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey. This survey asks graduates what they are doing six months after completing their degree.

The report argued that there was a correlation between outward mobility and improved academic and employment outcomes:

Graduates who were mobile during their degree were less likely to be unemployed (3.7% compared to 4.9%), and more likely to have earned a first class or upper second class degree (80.1% compared to 73.6%) and be in further study (15% compared to 14%). Those in work were more likely to be in a graduate level job (76.4% compared to 69.9%) and earn 5% more than their non-mobile peers.

The report said that the difference in outcomes between mobile and non-mobile students was particularly pronounced for disadvantaged and Black and minority ethnic students.

The academic Abdullah Atalar also considered the impact of student exchange programmes on international collaboration in a 2020 journal article. The author argued that, in light of globalisation in the 21st century, businesses are seeking employees with skills that enable an organisation to be more competitive in the international market. He states that, in order to be successful in the international labour market, university graduates are required to interact with people from other cultures and background. He believes exchange programmes can therefore be an effective method of developing international experience and preparing students for global work.

How has Covid-19 impacted exchange programmes?

A July 2020 article by the WYSE Travel Confederation considered the outlook for education and cultural exchange travel. The WYSE Travel Confederation is a global not-for-profit membership organisation representing the youth, student and educational travel industry. It said that:

[…] the educational and cultural exchange sectors’ expectations regarding demand have remained roughly the same since April [2020], with specialists in these programme areas anticipating a 56% drop in demand year-on-year.

In June 2021, the UK Government confirmed that the Turing Scheme and Erasmus+ mobilities would continue to operate during the 2021/22 academic year. The Department for Education has issued Covid-19 travel guidance for participants and organisations of exchange programmes such as Erasmus+.

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Cover photo by drobotdean. www.freepik.com.