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Gone International – the benefits of students volunteering, working or studying abroad

Today, Universities UK International has published the third instalment of Gone International, which examines the outcomes of students who have spent time studying, working, or volunteering abroad as part of their degrees.  

Around the world, countries are setting ambitious targets to ensure that more students have the opportunity to spend time abroad as part of their degree. Germany wants 50% of students to spend go abroad by 2020, and the US and France have both committed to doubling the number of students going abroad over the next few years.

But why?

Research suggests that going abroad as part of your degree brings a wealth of benefits. Our latest Gone International study, "mobility works", examines a cohort of UK domiciled undergraduate students graduating in 2014-15 and their outcomes six months after graduation. The study finds that, on average, the students in this cohort who have studied, volunteered or worked abroad are less likely to be unemployed, more likely to be in a graduate job, and enjoy a higher starting salary.

The outcomes of mobile and not mobile students compared six months after graduation



However, many students do not take the opportunity to go abroad. In 2014-15, around 1 in 15 UK undergraduate students went abroad as part of their degree. This represents substantial progress from 1 in 21 students the year before, but the UK still falls far short of the level of participation achieved in other major European and English-speaking countries.


Relatively low participation rates in the UK are in part driven by the underrepresentation of particular groups of students. In the UK, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and BME students are much less likely than their peers to go abroad. In the sample examined, white students were more than twice as likely as black students to go abroad, and students from more advantaged backgrounds were also almost twice as likely as those from more disadvantaged backgrounds to go abroad. The lowest participation rates were amongst black students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Just 1 in 37 of these students went abroad.

 Mobility rates by socio-economic background and ethnicity

While BME students and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are among the least likely to go abroad, evidence suggests that these students might stand to benefit the most from the opportunity. Differences in the unemployment rates of mobile and not-mobile students are most pronounced among BME students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The difference in the unemployment rates of mobile and not mobile black students was 3.2 percentage points compared to a difference of 0.8% amongst white students.

The low participation of particular groups of students is concerning, and further research is necessary to fully understand why some students are more likely to go abroad than others. UUKi are leading on an EU commission funded project looking at participation in outward mobility by students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. We are aiming to produce a report this summer, followed by a toolkit of best practice in Autumn.


The UK has made significant progress in recent years to expand opportunities for all students to go abroad. However, the UK’s vote to leave the EU has implications for mobility within Europe.. The EU’s student and staff mobility programme, Erasmus+, has supported over half of all UK students who went abroad. The programme helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the provision of top-up grants. It also funds higher education reform, fosters institutional cooperation and develops strategic partnerships. It has a strong and recognisable brand, and an unparalleled network of hundreds of thousands of alumni from the UK alone. For these reasons, Universities UK is asking the government to prioritise continued access to Erasmus+ in Brexit negotiations.

Given the value of opportunities for students studying, working or volunteering abroad as part of their degrees (both inside and outside of Erasmus+), we are also asking the government to increase the range of opportunities available to UK students and to underpin this with a quantitative target to enhance participation. Spending a period abroad allows students to enhance their global networks, as well as their intercultural and language skills. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is vital that these opportunities are not only protected, but enhanced.

Leave a Comment

IIEC says:
12 January 2019 at 05:33

European countries invest in their higher education systems to help make education affordable for students, whilst maintaining high quality standards. Across Europe, tuition fees and living costs compare very well to other study destinations.

IIEC says:
24 January 2019 at 11:43

The UK has retained its position as a popular destination among international students owing to its long standing tradition of providing quality education. The standard of teaching and research at UK universities and colleges is routinely assessed and graded by official organisations to ensure that set benchmarks are met. Although UK institutes undertake the responsibility of ensuring standard and quality of different programmes themselves, independent audits are carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). Professional bodies may also guide the curriculum and perform reviews on individual departments in an institute. Colleges in Scotland may undergo reviews by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.


IIEC says:
25 January 2019 at 12:09

In France education has a clear goal: the system must always produce a group of well-educated people with a common culture, language and skills that can serve the state. The French educational system has a very strong emphasis on content, culturally specific knowledge, scientific and mathematical knowledge. The system is designed to meet the needs of the state; individuality and originality are not considered worthwhile values


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