When Britain cut its last remaining ties to the European Union this year, one of the big concerns among young people was losing the opportunity to work and study in the EU.
The British government is hoping to address that concern by creating a new exchange program called the Turing Scheme, which will help 40,000 students study abroad this fall, including 4,000 in Canada.
Canada is the third-most-popular destination for British exchange students after the United States and China, according to government figures. “That very much goes to demonstrate the incredibly strong bonds between the two countries,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said in an interview this week. “It’s actually exciting to see such a large body of students wanting to go to Canadian institutions.”
The Turing Scheme, named after famed mathematician and Second World War code breaker Alan Turing, replaces an EU program called Erasmus, which is short for the EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. Erasmus provides students with funding for up to a year to pursue education, work or volunteer activities at hundreds of universities, colleges and other organizations across Europe.
Britain had been part of Erasmus since its creation in 1987, and the program had become so popular that the government considered remaining a participant after Brexit. However, Mr. Williamson said the government wanted to expand exchange opportunities to countries beyond the EU. “When you look globally as to how students want to pursue research and develop their understanding, there are so many amazing institutions globally,” he said.
The Turing Scheme works with universities, colleges and schools that have set up partnerships with institutions and organizations in other countries. They apply for funding under the scheme to cover the costs of students who would not be able to participate in exchange programs without financial support. The exchanges can be as short as four weeks or as long as 12 months.
Some of the grants awarded this year include funding a group of students from the sporting excellence program at Canterbury Academy, a high school in Kent, England, to join the Ottawa Guardsmen basketball club. The scheme will also help several British students participate in a recently announced exchange program between Ontario’s Niagara College and New College Lanarkshire, a vocational school in Scotland.
In total, more than 300 postsecondary institutions in Britain will receive grants starting this fall, which will support student exchanges to 150 countries. The number of students participating this year – 40,000 – is slightly higher than the annual total of British participants in the Erasmus program, Mr. Williamson said.
He added that the government hopes the scheme will encourage more partnerships between British and Canadian postsecondary programs. “We could use this as a framework to drive research collaboration and a deeper sense of partnership between great institutions on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.
The government has committed £110-million ($191-million) to fund the scheme this year. It has not yet committed further funding, but Mr. Williamson said the scheme was a priority. “We recognize this as a long-term project,” he said.
The government has been keen to develop new ties around the world as it grapples with post-Brexit realities. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been pushing to sign trade deals with a number of countries – Canada among them – and is planning to use high-profile events to foster a new “global Britain” image, including the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which takes place in Glasgow in November, and the Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Birmingham next summer.
The government is spending almost £800-million on the Commonwealth Games and is hoping the event won’t face the same COVID-19 restrictions as the Tokyo Olympics. Tickets went on sale last month, and officials are expecting spectators from around the world.
The U.K. is eager to use the Games to promote commercial relations among the 54 member countries. “We want to really showcase trading opportunities, both with the U.K. but also intra-Commonwealth as well,” Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said in a recent interview. “We sometimes underestimate the value of the Commonwealth in terms of international trade.”
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