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Isn’t going abroad what university is all about?

Katherine Allinson

Policy Researcher
Universities UK International


Going abroad is important.

We can all agree that travel is good for you: visiting new places, meeting folks from different backgrounds, and immersing yourself in other cultures helps you to become a more understanding and globally-minded person. These qualities cannot be underestimated at a time when the UK is seemingly more polarised than ever, with rising political agendas that are rooted in xenophobia and isolationism. The need for us to internationalise our students, staff and curriculum has never been more important. This is why we run the Go International: Stand out campaign, a national campaign to double the percentage of UK students who study, work or volunteer abroad during their UK degree programme.   


New research finds that students who go abroad get better degrees and better jobs

Mobility programmes have a big impact. UUKi's latest report Gone International: rising aspirations, released today, finds that more students than ever before are going abroad, with 7.8% of the 2016-17 UK graduating cohort spending a period abroad during their degree. The report also found that the mobility offer in the UK is growing and diversifying – universities are offering programmes of all types and durations to hundreds of locations. The importance of the UK's participation in the Erasmus+ mobility scheme, which is funded by the European Union, cannot be understated: Erasmus+ delivers around half the mobility from the UK and plays a crucial role in providing opportunities for students, especially for semester and year-long mobilities. That is why UUKi is calling on government to #supportstudyabroad and associate to the new Erasmus+ programme post 2020. Failing that a national replacement scheme should be established. 

For the fifth year running, the research found a correlation between students being mobile and experiencing positive outcomes after graduation. In short, students who go abroad get better degree and better jobs. They are 28% more likely to get a first-class degree, 26% less likely to be unemployed, are 7% more likely to be in a graduate role and earn on average a 5.5% higher starting salary just six months after graduation. 

The report also found that more students from underrepresented groups are going abroad, although a participation gap between more advantaged and less advantaged students persists, with students from more-advantaged backgrounds more likely to go abroad. However, when students from underrepresented groups are mobile, the findings show that they too achieve positive outcomes after university, and in some cases the impacts are even more pronounced for these groups: BME students are even more likely to be in a graduate level job and less likely to be unemployed than their peers, and mature students earn a much higher starting salary when compared to their non-mobile peers. Could outward mobility be part of the solution to closing the attainment gap?


The higher education sector is working hard to send students abroad.

The findings of this report are unsurprising when viewed alongside the wider work of universities since the UK Strategy for Outward Student Mobility was launched in 2013. Since then, universities have taken a strategic and ambitious approach to increasing mobility by setting bold targets, introducing innovative programmes, and embedding outward mobility programmes across institutions. UUKi's 2018 Mobility Management report found that 83% of universities have now embedded outward student mobility in institutional strategies and 65% have introduced targets to increase participation, and across the sector there is a strategic focus on widening participation in outward mobility. This increased commitment to sending more students abroad is nowhere more apparent than through the sector's Go International: Stand Out campaign, to which 95 UK universities have committed new actions to help boost and broaden mobility from their institution.


Students agree that mobility is life changing.

There is a wealth of research on the benefits of mobility. The recent 2019 Erasmus+ Impact Study surveyed over 75,000 alumni of the scheme to ask what impact the programme has had on their life. The report found that going abroad helped students find desired careers and get jobs quickly, with 80% of Erasmus+ alumni employed within three months of graduation. 95% reported to have learned to better get along with people from different cultures and 93% to have improved their ability to take cultural differences into account. Erasmus+ alumni claimed their mobilities increased their interpersonal and intercultural skills and competences, as well as their self-confidence, ability to achieve goals, and their social and cultural openness. 

While the research UUKi and others have produced over the last five academic years shows a strong correlation between going abroad and broadly positive academic and employment outcomes, the value of mobility is never more apparent than in the personal stories from students who have been abroad, many of whom claim the experience transformed their lives. And when all is said and done, isn't that the whole point of universities? To provide space for students to learn, to reach their potential, expand their horizons and graduate a more informed and confident person? We are in a period of dramatic political and social change, and it has never been more important for students to learn about the world outside our own. We are delighted to see universities across the sector working so hard to support more students then ever before to "go international". 

Our team

Annie Bell

Communications Manager
Universities UK International

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