The British Council will be stripped of its role in running the Turing student exchange scheme after it was undercut by outsourcing firm Capita.
According to reports in the Guardian, the decision, which has yet to be made public, has sent shockwaves through the education sector, with many worried thatthe British Council’s long experience with international educational exchanges will be lost thanks to the move.
The Turing scheme was announced in 2020 by Boris Johnson to replace the EU’s Erasmus scheme.
The tender lists the contract as worth up to £7 million to administer funding of £110 million, including administration costs.
Capita is said to have bid well below the £7 million ceiling.
Contracts to outsourcing companies
Hiring Capita is the latest example of the government’s efforts to award contracts to outsourcing companies.
Capita has been one of the major beneficiaries of the policy throughout the pandemic, despite criticism of its high-profile failings.
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 £110 million for the next academic year.”
The British Council has been helping administer the Erasmus scheme since 2007, and since 2014 has administered the successor Erasmus+ programme.
When applications for the Turing scheme opened in March, the government said the British Council and Ecorys UK, an economics research consultancy, would continue to administer the scheme as a consortium, with an emphasis on attracting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But in July the DfE said it was “inviting the market to participate in engagement” and issued a tender to administer the scheme until December 2023, “to award a single contract for delivery of the services across four nations of the UK”.
The British Council said it would continue administering the Turing scheme until the end of March 2022.
“The British Council and Ecorys will work closely with Capita to ensure a smooth transition. All current and planned mobility activities will go ahead uninterrupted, and there will be no gap in service,” it said.
Capita will be helped by organisations such as the Confederation of School Trusts, the Association of Colleges, the Sutton Trust and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which has experience administering student scholarship schemes.
They will have a limited role according to the tender documents, which state: “The [DfE] will require a single legal entity to enter into the contract with it. Sub-contractors are permissible, but the authority will not accept bids from consortia proposing joint and several liability for delivery.”