#DMUglobal Mass Trips - a new approach to short-term experiential mobility

11 October 2018

​Just a few weeks ago, here at #DMUglobal (De Montfort University) we were lucky enough to celebrate sending our 10,000th student overseas since the launch of the programme just four years ago. We believe that our success in inspiring so many students to go abroad has been a combination of embracing all types of mobility and continuous innovation within the programme.

Nowhere is this seen better than through our ambitious Mass Trips, which began in January 2017 when we took 1,000 of our students to New York for an unforgettable week of academic-led activities and cultural visits. Since then mass mobility has become a key component of our offer to students, ensuring an accessible and structured international experience for all. To date we have now arranged numerous large scale trips to the following destinations:

New York (2017 & 2018)
Berlin (2017 & 2018)
Hong Kong (2018)

When discussing these opportunities, we are often asked - why do you do it? and why invest such resource into these short-term mobility opportunities? In this piece, we will reveal the rationale, strategy and impact of such opportunities, and ultimately how they have become such a successful part of our offering. 

Student benefits

At the heart of all #DMUglobal opportunities sit our core aims: to enrich a student’s studies; broaden their cultural horizons; and develop key skills valued by employers – and in that sense Mass Trips are no different to everything else we do. With students engaging in activities directly related to their academic programme - whether that be visiting partner universities, working with NGOs and charities, or visiting businesses for workshops and talks with industry professionals – participants are given the opportunity to enrich their studies in an international environment over an intensive period of around one week. 

For many students taking part in these Mass Trips it is the first time they have travelled overseas, and the development of soft skills and the broadening their cultural horizons is also a key motivating factor. A high proportion of students that participate on such trips report increased confidence and improved resilience in handling new and unfamiliar situations. Giving students these experiences and building confidence and capacity can act as a springboard to further engagement in longer term outward mobility opportunities.

Testament to this is the overwhelming positive feedback we received from our student evaluations following 300 second year students spending a week in Hong Kong in March 2018: 

  • 97% of participants thought the opportunity added value to their course
  • 99% felt that this international experience was important for their future employment or further study
  • 92% of participants said the trip improved their confidence in handling new and unfamiliar situations
  • 94% of those who travelled are now more interested to pursue other international experiences

And here’s what one of our students said about the experience:
‘I had the most fabulous experience that I will not get over for a long time! The trip didn’t only give me so much creative inspiration to take back to my course but it also gave me confidence in myself knowing I can tackle a place  which I never even imagined I would be able to navigate so well. I just need to get back to uni now so I can start creating all the work around my amazing time!’


Mobility for all

In order to engage such high volumes of students, #DMUglobal works closely with academic colleagues to design itineraries that appeal to and are relevant for all students. With almost half of all participants citing the opportunity to enrich their studies as the main motivator to go abroad we felt that this was a key component to engage all students on Mass Trips. However, at the same time we realised that quite often the main barrier to participation in outward mobility is finances, or perceived financial barriers. 

Thus, what makes the Mass Trips stand out from our other opportunities is that we provide a special bursary which generously subsidises the trip, underpinning our commitment to widening participation. And the results are unsurprisingly positive, with the financial support having an unequivocal enabling impact, with 98% of students that went on our New York (January 2017) trip agreeing that the funding enabled them to take part. 

The inclusivity of these opportunities is further evidenced when you look at the diversity of the students that participated, which is in contrast to the underrepresentation of certain groups in other forms of outward mobility. An example of this is that over the two New York Mass Trips we have had an average of 48% students from BAME backgrounds, aligning exactly with the overall student demographic at DMU. The enabling impact of the #DMUglobal funding is articulated in student feedback we received from a New 
York 2017 participant: 

‘It was one of the best experiences of my life; I feel I would not have been able to go if it was not for the fantastic #DMUglobal bursary. The experience has been a trip of a lifetime, with memories I will not forget.’

Strategic benefits

#DMUglobal has become one of DMU’s unique selling points since its launch just four years ago, and with the introduction of the concept of mass mobility in January 2017, the programme is now one of the most comprehensive and ambitious outward mobility programmes of any UK university. The programme sits at the heart of the University’s international strategy and wider strategic framework, emphasising the commitment to ensuring the internationalisation of our staff and students. #DMUglobal is now the byword for internationalisation itself and the brand and clear strategy we have ensures the programme is clear, accessible and visible – to the extent that we have entire buildings on campus wrapped in #DMUglobal livery and global cityscapes.
It must be considered that to create, deliver and expand such an ambitious programme requires significant resource from the University, and with that comes the need to justify this, and showcase the wider strategic benefits to DMU, of which there are many, including:

  • Student recruitment – Based on our new entrants survey, 18% of students cite #DMUglobal as a key reason in choosing to study at DMU. This is a key factor for both our UK/EU and international students in deciding to study here. 
  • Student satisfaction – There is a clear positive correlation between students that participate on a #DMUglobal opportunity and their satisfaction with their programme of study, and DMU in general.  
  • Strategic partnerships & initiatives - Our Mass Trips to Hong Kong and New York have allowed DMU to work with and develop partnerships with the UK government’s GREAT campaign and the UN, with a particular focus on supporting refugees. Our engagement with the UN has led to DMU being chosen as a Global Hub to support the United Nations goals. In turn, DMU’s new strategy for 2018-23 aligns with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Alumni relations – Through the Mass Trips to New York, Hong Kong and Berlin we have been able to reinvigorate our alumni networks overseas. DMU alumni have participated on the trips, and also hosted student groups at their companies, participated in networking events and offered to act as mentors for our students offering advice and guidance as part of our new #DMUworks employability initiative.


Our lessons

Delivering trips on such a large scale has been a huge learning experience for the University, but at the same time it has revolutionised how staff look at international travel, outward mobility and, more broadly, DMU’s place within a global environment.  We recognise that there are a number of key factors that are/were paramount to facilitate the delivery of such opportunities, and for anyone keen on doing it themselves, here are our top 3 recommendations:

  1. Make friends with your professional services colleagues – to pull of such an ambitious project you need the entire university to get behind the idea and offer their help and support. This includes working with your disability support team, security, health & safety, marketing and communications, procurement & insurance just to name a few. Already you may engage with these people for other activities, but building positive relations and having their good will is essential. Promoting the positive benefits to students and the wider university, plus inviting colleagues to come on the trips are all good things to do!
  2. Be prepared to put some money behind it – you will need to provide financial support for all students and pay for staff to actually lead and support the opportunities, therefore a healthy budget and strict financial management are key. Remember if you are requesting money from your Senior Leadership Team, make a business case that speaks to them, aligns with the University goals and strategy, whilst also putting the measurable student benefits at the heart of any proposal. 
  3. Get your Faculties and academic staff on board early – whilst such opportunities are usually driven forward and the logistics managed by professional services, the academics are the keystone. Mass Trips require academics from all faculties and disciplines to develop ideas, trips and activities for students to take part in whilst overseas. As with other areas, promote the benefits to them and their programmes, whilst also trying to reduce administrative workload.
The concept of outward mobility in the UK is changing, with more universities widening the scope of their activities, considering short-term mobility options and also funding activity at an institutional level.  And whilst these Mass Trips may not be the answer to everything, and don’t offer the depth of experience that a year studying abroad does, they can still have a great impact on students.
Since we launched #DMUglobal four years ago our ethos has always been to embrace all types and duration of mobility, and we feel short-term opportunities of this nature have an important role to play. With initiatives like this we have managed to interest the uninterested and engage the disengaged, broadening their horizons and ultimately opening their eyes to a world of possibilities that await them after they graduate. Through these opportunities we hope we have kick-started their international ambitions and inspired them to use these experiences as a stepping-stone to greater things. 

Written by Owen Sheridan (Deputy Head of #DMUglobal) and Leo Smith (Head of #DMUglobal)

If you would like to know more about our Mass Trips or #DMUglobal in general feel free to drop us an email at dmuglobal@dmu.ac.uk

​Find out about UUKi's current mobility projects here.

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