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15.7% Swiss outbound mobility ‘too low’

The 15.7% of Swiss university graduates that have studied abroad is below the national target of 20%, according to a report by the national agency Movetia.

Mobility rates range widely from 1% to 50% among institutions. Photo: Pexels.

The findings from the agency for exchange and mobility found that “only one in nine higher education institutions meets Switzerland’s international and national mobility targets”.

Many Swiss institutions show a “significant lower rate” than the 20% European Higher Education Area mobility target, the body warned.

Mobility rates range widely from 1% to 50%, with only four of the 36 universities surveyed meeting the target of 20%.

The University of St.Gallen, EPF Lausanne, HEP St.Gallen, Università della Svizzera italiana and the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland make up the top five.

The average mobility rate is 15.7%, which was “only achieved thanks to the exceptional performance of the institutions placed among the top three”.

The data used pre-pandemic information, and – as one stakeholder highlighted to The PIE – does not include masters students going abroad to write their thesis, semester project or to do an internship outside formal exchange programs.

In the introduction of the report, it notes the “definition of mobility retained by the EHEA is broader than the one used in this study”. The EHEA looks at all the study degrees from bachelor’s to PhD level and different mobility formats are taken into consideration, it said.

“The ones that invest intensively in one or more internationalisation factors show a higher mobility rate”

Movetia noted that the term mobility used in the report refers to a temporary mobility in the sense of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, lasting at least three months or worth at least 15 ECTS, and completed during a bachelor or a master degree at a Swiss institution.

The OFS does not differentiate between mobility within or outside programs, the agency noted.

“This mobility may take the form of a study period in an institution abroad or of an international internship. If more than one stay took place, only the longest one is counted,” it said.

Swiss institutions would expect to show higher rates of mobility if the report had featured the same definition of mobility as the European HEA, insiders suggested.

However, Movetia said it would expect the opposite as “the EHEA tends to be stricter regarding the counting: that figures would be lower”.

“This is based on experience from Germany, where a similar approach to ours results in higher rates than when the EHEA definition is used,” it said.

Martina Weiss, Generalsekretärin for swissuniversities, told The PIE that not being fully associated with Erasmus+ programs was an obstacle for Switzerland.

“The mobility of students depends, among other things, on the different interests in the various subjects,” she added.

Movetia noted that “three factors stand out as important catalysts for outgoing mobility”. These include study programs with an international orientation, an international study environment, and attractive conditions for incoming students, it said.

The agency’s new internationalisation index shows a “significant correlation” between the mobility rate and the degree of internationalisation of higher education institutions.

“The ones that invest intensively in one or more internationalisation factors show a higher mobility rate,” the agency said.

Movetia’s director, Olivier Tschopp, said the “significant” mobility rate differences mean initiatives are need to “ensure that all students have similar mobility opportunities”.

“This publication points out that the decision to go on a mobility or not does not lie exclusively with the students,” he said in a statement.

“Swiss higher education institutions and the national educational framework have an important role to play in achieving the mobility objectives that have been set, in order to allow Switzerland to remain an attractive country for education and innovation.”

As the data was sourced from an official OFS survey of the circa 53,000 master and bachelor graduates in 2020. Exchanges all took place before the pandemic.

Update, Feb. 6 9:00am GMT: this article has been amended to include additional information and responses from Movetia on the definitions of mobility used and that the data was sourced from an official OFS survey.

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