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Australia: one in four undergrads undertake mobility experience

More Australians are studying overseas than ever. Photo: UnsplashMore Australians are studying overseas than ever. Photo: Unsplash

Almost half of outbound students studied in the Indo-Pacific

The 2018 Australian Universities Learning Abroad report, released in November and undertaken by i-Graduate, found more than 52,000 Australian domestic students went abroad during their studies last year, representing 19% of the entire graduating cohort.

“This is an opportunity that can help differentiate them as a graduate”

By level of study, however, one in four undergraduates went abroad, at just 36,500 students.

“Students are also starting to recognise that this is an opportunity that can help differentiate them as a graduate,” explained Jo Byng, member of the AUIDF Executive.

“Many of their peers are engaging in it… and so I think they recognise it’s got a lot of value and it’s becoming a rite of passage for students.”

According to the report, 2018 was the first time ever the number of domestic outbound students surpassed the 50,000 marks, and saw the proportion of students almost doubled from 17% in 2014.

Speaking with The PIE News, Byng, who is also director of international strategy, mobility and operations at Western Sydney International, said substantial government backing had also helped encourage more Australian students to consider mobility programs.

“The Australian government has given an immense amount of support, particularly to promote undergraduate mobility, through New Colombo grants and scholarships,” she said.

“That would be one of the big factors, but then also loans that have been available to students, undergraduates, for over a decade now, that I think are taken up in fairly significant numbers by students.”

Byng added many institutions had also begun to set outbound targets to increase the number of domestic students undertaking some form of outbound study experience.

“Students are increasingly taking up the unique experiences to help develop global perspectives”

“We don’t have a national aspiration target as such, but institutions do tend to have targets that they set and that varies widely,” she said

“Universities have really started to recognise the benefits to students in undertaking overseas mobility experiences,” she continued, adding benefits were experienced both academically and post-graduation when finding employment.

Of those that went abroad, the majority did so on a short-term program, with 24% going on a study tour, 21% as part of a work-integrated learning experience, internship, or practical placement, and 16% to undertake a class at a partner institution.

While most undertook a short-term program, Byng said several factors influenced students ability to study abroad in the first place.

“We don’t want to judge or undervalue the benefit of a short-term program and for some students that is the only option they have,” she said.

“It might be because their particular academic program doesn’t offer a semester window for them to go out, and that’s particularly true for students in programs like nursing or teaching where the curriculum is locked down far more tightly.”

She noted personal reasons also prevented students from going abroad longer, adding that those that went abroad often undertook multiple programs for longer periods for time.

RMIT University is one of the institutions that has seen a substantial rise in the number of domestic students participating in some form of international study experience.

“Students are increasingly taking up the unique experiences we offer in person, online, onshore and offshore to help develop global perspectives, so they are ready for the ever-changing world of work,” a spokesperson said.

“More than 3,500 students participated in a global mobility program (traditional exchanges or study abroad programs) through RMIT in 2018, an increase of 21.5% since 2017.”

“We don’t have a national aspiration target as such”

According to the study, 49% of Australian outbound students studied in the Indo-Pacific, an area of focus for the New Colombo Plan. China, meanwhile, represented the biggest single country with 14% of students.

Byng said the next aim for AUIDF was to ensure demographics underrepresented in the study could take up an outbound experience.

We try not to place heavy judgement on length of study, although we always do help that more students will think about going or go on longer experiences but it’s just not always suited for some students.

“One of the things that we would be looking for is increasing accessibility for students that fall into the access and equity groups,” she said, noting students who were ‘first-in-family’, low-SES students, and Indigenous students.

“[These] groups that often have even more obstacles in their way in terms of participating mobility programs. It’s not just about volume, but about ensuring we give opportunities or support those students who might find it even more difficult to go out to get those benefits.”

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