Using mobility as a tool to close the attainment gap and equip the workforce of tomorrow

12 December 2017
Sandra Kerr

Sandra Kerr OBE

Race Equality Director
Business in the Community

​This summer, Universities UK International (UUKi) published its Widening participation in UK outward student mobility report, which looked at the level of participation in study, work or volunteering abroad programmes of students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds To follow up on the report, UUKi has created a toolkit to support universities and further education colleges to increase students’ participation in these mobility programmes.

The toolkit draws on suggestions from students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It also showcases 20 institutions that are leading the way in their efforts to widen participation in outward mobility. The toolkit supports institutions by offering useful recommendations and advice. 

Key recommendations included in the toolkit are:

• taking a whole institution approach to widening participation in mobility

• being student led when designing programmes and delivering support

• offering short term opportunities

• providing targeted funding

• using diverse marketing channels

• providing information to parents and guardians

Sandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director at Business in the Community welcomes the project. She says the report “clearly sets out the positive influence that working, volunteering and studying abroad has on students’ academic attainment – particularly those from disadvantaged lower socio-economic backgrounds and BAME backgrounds. The report provides compelling evidence that this experience is not only potentially transformative for the students who take part, but also impacts on their earnings and access to graduate-level jobs after they leave university. 

As more employers have an international and in many cases global reach, that experience of engagement and collaboration across international boundaries will be increasingly valuable for any student to add to their portfolio. However, as this report demonstrates, there are significant difficulties in getting a place abroad for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including young BAME people, which in turn damages the likelihood that they will find good work in the future. With BAME graduates more likely to be unemployed six months after leaving university than their white counterparts, it’s vital for us to address the challenges of ensuring fair and equal access to these opportunities.

This is why I welcome the development of this new toolkit, which shares examples of best practice and sets out practical actions that universities and further education organisations can take. Many of these steps echo the actions Business in the Community encourages our employers to take to increase BAME representation, including setting targets, engaging senior leadership and having a senior member of staff acting in a champion role. We know that these actions are effective and I hope that by sharing the insights in this toolkit, universities and further education organisations can implement effective approaches more quickly, benefitting young people from diverse backgrounds. 

The world of work is changing. As it becomes increasingly global, employers will need to draw on the widest pool of diverse talent to ensure that they are able to compete in this new environment and that their organisations truly reflect the clients, customers and communities they serve. One in six UK-domiciled students and one in four primary and secondary school pupils now comes from a BAME background, representing a significant source of talent that employers cannot continue to ignore. 

By ensuring study, work and volunteer abroad opportunities are open and accessible to all students, universities will demonstrate that they are equipping the future workforce with the skills that employers value and in turn close the attainment gap. This will create workplaces that are truly diverse and inclusive. The time for talking is over; now is the time to act.”​

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