Expanding outward mobility opportunities

10 May 2018
Daniel Wake

Daniel Wake

Policy Manager
Universities UK

​Today, Universities UK International has published Gone International: Expanding Opportunities. The report is the fourth edition of our series of cohort studies, which looks at the outcomes of graduates who spent a period of their undergraduate first degree studying, working or volunteering abroad.

The report links together subject, demographic, mobility and outcomes data to provide a snapshot of the mobile student population and their activities. Thanks to the diligence of higher education institutions, we now have three sets of mobility data between 2013−14 and 2015−16 which provides a snapshot of mobility activity throughout a student's university life.

While the proportion of mobile students in the cohort remained at 7.2%, more graduates from this cohort were reported as being mobile than ever before. This is a clear sign of the sector's continued commitment to the UK's Go International: Stand Out campaign, which aims to increase the number of overseas student experiences for UK-domiciled students.

Erasmus+ continued to facilitate a high percentage of mobility opportunities, particularly for students in the penultimate years of their studies, when the scheme accounted for more than half of all mobility instances. There were also provider-led mobility schemes, including placements and field work, which provided opportunities outside of Europe.

Mobility programmes offer more than just study opportunities; for example, 22.7% of mobility instances for this cohort involved work such as internships, while a further 2.8% involved volunteering. Furthermore, 73.7% of mobile students in the cohort were non-language students, demonstrating that opportunities extend beyond the more traditional subjects for mobility. As the report outlines however, some subjects had low mobility rates, so there is room for further improvement.    

The analysis suggests that graduates who undertook a period of mobility had, on average, better degree classifications, were in graduate jobs with higher starting salaries (of those in full-time paid employment) and lower initial unemployment rates, than their non-mobile peers. Less advantaged and underrepresented groups were less likely to participate in mobility opportunities, but in many cases positive outcomes for these mobile students were more pronounced.

The report also highlights that periods of mobility can be beneficial regardless of their duration. Graduates who spent a short period (one to four weeks) of their degree overseas were still found to have lower unemployment rates on average than their non-mobile peers. Mobile students from less advantaged backgrounds were reported as having a higher percentage of short-term mobility than more advantaged students. We recommend that universities diversify their programme offerings by providing further short-term mobility opportunities, enabling all students regardless of background to go abroad.

There is more to be done, however. Recent research has suggested that there are a variety of obstacles to outward mobility, and it is important that opportunities are extended to all students. We encourage universities to evaluate the success and impact of their programmes, to further widen access and promote good outcomes. Further research measuring the impact of different mobility types, including modes of delivery and duration of programme would benefit the sector, as would a more longitudinal analysis of impact.

Mobility plays an essential part in creating a generation of globally-connected, culturally sensitive and internationally-aware graduates. The more students understand about the world we operate in, the better they can contribute to its continued success. It is essential that universities continue to offer a range of mobility opportunities so those who wish to go abroad are able to, and that they encourage those who may be hesitant to take up the chance to go abroad.

On a personal level, it was rewarding to be able to contribute to this research. In 2010, I participated in an Erasmus programme mobility (now known as Erasmus+) to Lund University, in Sweden. It provided a unique opportunity to study in a different learning environment, meet students and staff from around the world, and experience a new culture. It wasn't an easy decision to spend a semester away from friends and family, but it was certainly worth it, and I am hopeful that all students will soon have similar opportunities. 

Note: The report does not attempt to identify causal links between students going abroad and particular outcomes, but provides a snapshot of the profiles of full-time, first degree, UK-domiciled, mobile students who graduated in 2015−16, where they went, and what their outcomes were

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