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UK students benefit from study abroad.

In Design, Weekly Update on April 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“Recent estimates suggest 33,000 UK students are studying abroad, while 370,000 foreign students are studying in the UK, an imbalance which defines the UK as primarily a destination for international students (the second most important in the world after the United States) rather than a source of such students. Nevertheless, attention needs to be paid to outward mobility because of concerns that a low rate might hamper UK graduates’ competitiveness in global and European labour markets, while a high rate may signal a ‘brain drain’.”

Jill Ahrens (Sussex Centre for Migration Research; University of Sussex)


A review of international student mobility says that study abroad can significantly boost the chances of  a student’s success in later life and bring benefits to the UK’s knowledge economy:

“More and more, students are starting to understand the added value of mobility. The benefits are that it sets them apart from other students, looks good on their CVs, gives them transferable skills, the opportunity to travel, an international career, and personal development in terms of maturity and confidence (interviewee D, pre-92 university, Wales).”

‘International student mobility literature review’ was commissioned by HEFCE and the British Council, as the UK National Agency for Erasmus, to provide a better understanding of trends in the mobility of UK students and to compare them with those in other countries. The study considered the reasons behind students’ decision to study abroad and employers’ attitudes towards those who have studied abroad.

The report distinguishes between those who study abroad as part of a course at a UK higher education institution and those who study an entire degree course outside the UK.

Findings in the report include:

  • Increasing numbers of UK students have studied abroad in the past few years. This partly results from greater numbers taking part in Erasmus, an EU-funded scheme in which students can spend time in Europe as part of their study at a UK higher education institution. The introduction of work placements in the Erasmus scheme has contributed to this rise.
  • The UK is primarily a host country for foreign students. Around 370,000 students from outside the UK come here to study; there are less than a tenth of that number of UK students currently studying abroad.
  • UK universities could do more to provide clear and accurate information to prospective students about studying abroad. This could include highlighting the support they offer, and the benefits study abroad can bring, such as employment outcomes.

Heather Fry, HEFCE Director for Education and Participation, said:

‘This report highlights the benefits that UK students can gain from studying abroad. We should be doing more as a nation to publicise and support this. Students are missing out on opportunities, not least to improve their competitiveness in the international graduate labour market.’

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said:

‘This report shows how UK students can gain by spending time abroad as part of their university experience. Whether it’s an internship at a company based overseas, or a study period at a foreign university, students gain valuable skills which will benefit them throughout their personal and professional lives.

‘Outward mobility is particularly valuable when it forms an integral and accredited part of the student’s course. I am grateful to authors of this report for offering some useful suggestions for universities about how to increase student mobility, and also for highlighting some key areas for future research.’

Martin Davidson, Chief Executive British Council, said:

“The market for skills and talents is global, and more opportunities need to be provided for young people in the UK to gain international experience through work and study placements in other countries. Not only does this build cultural fluency, the ability to work in differing environments, but more importantly it will allow the UK to develop a workforce that can drive forward our knowledge economy.”

Regarding policy and practice, several questions beg to be answered:

The first is the balance between promoting inward as opposed to outward mobility. Most discussion focuses on the former, for its revenue-generating benefits to UK HEIs and to the wider economy. However, there is a growing appreciation of the importance of outward mobility, in recognition of the fact that UK-origin graduates with foreign experience bring greater human capital to the knowledge economy. Based on survey and interview data from various reports, as well as our own interviews conducted for this report, we identify a range of good practices HEIs can implement to foster greater outward mobility. These include: the promotion of mobility options at admissions Open Days, greater provision of clear and accurate information, greater staff mobility (since this has synergies with student mobility), highlighting the financial benefits and support available, publicising good employment outcomes from alumni and employers’ testimonials, ensuring clarity of credit transfer systems,

and using returning students as mobility ambassadors to prospective mobile students by involving them in promotional events, particularly for work placements as these are a growth area. For degree mobility, HEIs can do little except promote foreign universities as destinations for postgraduate study.

“Why, then, do students choose to study abroad? For credit-mobility students, a simple, facile answer is that they do so because it is a mandatory part of their degree programme; for others it might be an optional element in their degree. This, however, merely redirects the question to an earlier stage of the decision-making: why did they choose that degree course, with its in-built mobility opportunities? For the Erasmus programme, the ‘EU discourse’ promotes two main benefits and therefore motivations to students: acquisition of a foreign language and intercultural awareness; and improved employment prospects. At a macro-scale, too, these motivations have their equivalents: the creation of a multilingual, multiculturally aware European graduate population; and the enhanced competitiveness of European graduates, and of the European economy, in an increasingly competitive global scenario (King 2003: 163-166). These motivations are, indeed, picked up by Erasmus students when they are questioned or interviewed about the reasons for, and evaluations of, their mobility experiences. One the whole, it seems that they are more highly motivated by the general experience of studying or working abroad, than they are by its intrinsic academic merit or even, in some surveys, by its employment pay-offs.”

International student mobility literature review: Final report

Summary:

The report brings together recent literature and data on student mobility. It looks at the trends in UK international students’ mobility and compares these internationally. It also considers the causal factors for students’ choice to spend time abroad, the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of mobile students, and the impact that time abroad has on their employability; and it highlights policy and practice in HEIs in respect of student mobility.

Read the full report here.

November 2010;International student mobility literature review: Report to HEFCE, and co-funded by the British Council, UK National Agency for Erasmus ” by Russell King (Sussex Centre for Migration Research;University of Sussex), Allan Findlay (Centre for Applied Population Analysis, University of Dundee), Jill Ahrens (Sussex Centre for Migration Research;University of Sussex)


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