Academics horrified that administration of Turing student exchange scheme outsourced to Capita

Company ousts British Council in running Erasmus replacement

Everyone's favourite outsourcing badass Capita is taking control of the £110m Turing student exchange programme formerly run by The British Council, a public corporation.

Announced in 2020 by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the new Turing Scheme replaced the EU's Erasmus student exchange scheme, which the UK withdrew from as it formally left the EU.

The British Council had helped administer the Erasmus scheme since 2007, and since 2014 has administered the successor Erasmus+ programme.

However is a twist, Capita has won a competitive tender for a contract estimated to be worth £6.9m, according to a contract notice published in July.

Expected to start from February 2022, Capita is set to deliver the Turing Scheme, which began in February this year.

The scheme has funding of £110m and was to allow 35,000 students in UK universities, colleges, and schools to travel on placements overseas, starting from September 2021, according to an earlier prior information notice.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents more than 130,000 academics and lecturers, was damning of the decision.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said in a statement: "Outsourcing the scheme to Capita, who have a shocking record of failure on a range of other government contracts, is a terrible decision from the Department for Education which will further diminish the quality of student exchange programmes.

"The British Council has important expertise in the running of student exchanges, and cutting them out of the process in favour of a profit-making private company is shameful. The Turing Scheme is still finding its feet, and the priority must be delivering quality for students, not a race to the bottom. This continued, ideological outsourcing drive from the Tories is bad for students and bad for ordinary people."

The British Council said: "We are proud to have launched the Turing Scheme in February 2021 and supported £98.5m of grant funding in the inaugural year of the Turing Scheme, including 41,024 participants, of which 48 per cent are identified as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds."

A Capita spokesperson said: "Following a competitive procurement process, we are delighted to have won this contract to administer grants for the Turing Scheme.

"We look forward to working with the Department for Education and our partners to enable students from all backgrounds to access global work and education opportunities."

Capita's deal to run the Turing Scheme is set to last until December 2023.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The Turing Scheme is creating life-changing opportunities for over 40,000 students to work and study across the globe this academic year – with nearly half of all placements going to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The government has committed to funding the programme for a further three years, including with £110m for the next academic year."

Capita has something of a disputable track record in the UK public sector.

For example, in August 2015, NHS England entered into a seven-year, £330m contract with the firm to support primary care (GPs et cetera) and save 35 per cent of costs. But primary care providers began raising concerns with NHS England about failures of the contract.

In May 2018, the National Audit Office said failures in joint working between NHS England and Capita led to an impact on the "delivery of primary care services and had the potential to seriously harm patients," although no actual harm to patients has been identified.

"It is deeply unsatisfactory that, two-and-a-half years into the contract, NHS England and Capita have not yet reached the level of partnership working required to make a contract like this work effectively," the public spending watchdog said.

There was also the fiasco with the British Army over recruitment and associated IT systems.

On its website, Capita says it is "delivering solutions that keep the UK government running and improving services to the public." ®

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