By contrast, outward mobility is not an urgent theme,
although it is the reflection of inward mobility and makes an important
contribution to international competitiveness. According to the UK
Strategy for Outward Mobility, just 6% of university students travel abroad
as part of their degree. Comparative figures are hard to come by for other
countries, but we know the UK receives twice as many Erasmus students as we
send abroad. This compares to the aspirational Bologna Goal that 20% of all
graduates should have spent a period of time studying or training abroad by
As institutions, we therefore face an interesting
challenge. It is worth noting that the headline 6% conceals significant
variance due to structural challenges within the sector. A large, multi-faculty
institution may require all of its language students to study abroad, alongside
interested students from highly transferable subjects. A small, specialist
institution, although willing, may have to overcome barriers relating to
semesterisation and lack of transferability.
This means the Bologna Goal represents a significant
challenge. But we must not duck it. The sector’s energy in recruiting
international students needs to be matched by its enterprise in encouraging our
students to be international. For one thing, our openness to the world is part
of our pitch to Government post-Brexit, as recognised by International Trade
Secretary Liam Fox when he spoke this week to the Lords International Relations
It would certainly be worth the effort for our core
mission. To rehearse the basic argument, students with some measure of outward
do better at every key indicator in higher education, from attainment to
employability. Other than family background, no other single indicator of
achievement is quite as reliable.
On that basis, outward mobility would play a key part in
the pedagogy and international strategy of every institution. The strategic options
are obvious. Some universities would select the best for outward mobility, as
with the Fulbright Program. Some would have country or city focuses, others
would require every student in particular categories to study abroad. An
obvious category would be students from widening participation backgrounds --
disadvantaged and BAME students who are mobile are at an overwhelming advantage
compared to non-mobile students from similar backgrounds.
Perhaps because we take it for granted, we don’t realise
how difficult life would be if continued access to Erasmus+ is not secured
following Brexit. As institutions, our outward mobility relies on Erasmus+: 46%
of all UK mobilities in 2014–15 were facilitated through this programme.
Erasmus+ is an extraordinarily well-designed outward mobility scheme. Every
legal and academic barrier removed across a bloc of 28 countries, and with
funding for students participating in it.
Reconstructing this would be painful but necessary in
order to continue our students’ access to world-leading universities. The
alternative is grim. Subjects including languages would disproportionately
suffer if we left Erasmus+ with no replacement. And yet I sense limited impetus
to secure continued access to Erasmus+ in institutional lobbying around Brexit.
Meanwhile, it is strikingly unbusiness-like that higher
education has so little interest in mobility to the Rest of the World, and is
so reliant on Europe. This must now represent an unacceptable level of risk for
the sector in our preparation for Brexit. Single-institution bilateral deals are
not sustainable, particularly as it can take up to a year to negotiate a single
exchange for one student with an institution outside the EU. In this new, risky
environment, we cannot afford this bespoke approach. We need to act together,
with a consensus on which countries and regions to prioritise.
The sector truly has a long way to go if it is to meet
the challenge of the next years. It will take a long time to establish strategic
international mobility partnerships with a similar level of quality assurance,
learning agreements and protections as in Erasmus+. It will take even longer if
we also need to replace our access to Europe. We need to decide what mobility
is for, then achieve it with a true sense of urgency, working together.