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UUKi launches outward student mobility campaign

A campaign to increase the number of UK-domiciled undergraduate students who study, work or volunteer overseas for two or more weeks has been launched by Universities UK International. Currently just 6.6% of UK students are mobile during their studies, but as part of a national strategy, UUKi is looking to double this figure to 13% by 2020.

Left to right: Rose Matthews, head of global opportunities, Cardiff University, UUKi director Vivienne Stern, Fatima Afzal, Aston Univeristy alumni.Left to right: Rose Matthews, head of global opportunities, Cardiff University; UUKi director Vivienne Stern; Fatima Afzal, Aston University alumni.

"If students can't go abroad to study for a full year, there needs to be other ways for students to get an opportunity for a life-changing experience"

Through its three-year Go International: Stand Out campaign, UUKi is calling on universities to pledge concrete actions that will grow and support student mobility at their institutions, particularly for students from disadvantaged groups.

These actions include building networks of mobility champions including academics and alumni, producing research to address data gaps and advocating for outward student mobility with governments in the UK and overseas.

According to a UUKi report, students who go abroad are 9% more likely to gain a 1st or 2:1 degree and 24% less likely to be unemployed than their counterparts who stay in the UK. 

While these gains are particularly significant for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the report found this group is the least likely to participate in outward student mobility. 

Outwardly mobile black students were also found to be 41% less likely to be unemployed after graduation than their non-mobile black peers.

Students who go abroad are 9% more likely to gain a 1st or 2:1 degree and 24% less likely to be unemployed

Speaking at the campaign launch, UUKi director Vivienne Stern described outward mobility as core to the mission of universities.

“Students with experience abroad are much less likely to be unemployed and more likely to have the resilience they need in a globally-focused world,” said Stern.

“But it is not good enough that those opportunities are only taken up by the predominantly wealthy students or language studies students. We have a responsibility to spread the benefits because if we don’t, we are compounding the problem.”

Stern said that universities need to be ambitious about widening the range of opportunities available to all students so those barriers that exist needn’t be a deal breaker.

“If students can’t go abroad to study for a full year, there needs to be other ways for students to get an opportunity for a life-changing experience.”

UK students are lagging behind their international counterparts when it comes to international experience.

“When you look at international comparisons, it’s quite clear that the UK has a pretty woeful record of encouraging students to go abroad”

According to UUKi, 15% of US students, 19% of Australian students and 25% of German students currently experience an international placement as part of their studies.

“When you look at international comparisons, it’s quite clear that the UK has a pretty woeful record of encouraging students to go abroad,” said Stern.

“While there are lots of reasons for this, we can’t allow it to persist, particularly when we have clear evidence of the benefits of going abroad.”

Of the 6.6% UK-domiciled undergraduate students who study, work or volunteer overseas, Stern added that 55% are on Erasmus programs.

“We are in a crunch point with Erasmus. We don’t know if students are going to be able to participate in the last 19 months of the program, we’ve been nagging the UK government to find what is going to happen,” she added.

To date, 54 universities have already pledged their support for the campaign, including early adopters Aston University and Cardiff University.

Aston University deputy vice-chancellor, professor Helen Higson told The PIE News that the university has a long tradition of creating globally mobile students.

“Aston has an outstanding record of outward mobility: by 2020 our target is for 100% of our students to have a one-year work placement. We are at 80% now, but we are absolutely committed to our target.

“Our proposition is that international experience changes your life and our graduates have consistently proven this.”

This sentiment was echoed by the head of global opportunities at Cardiff University, Rose Matthews.

“Cardiff University has a strong commitment to outward mobility because of the benefits it brings to the university, its students and the wider community,” said Matthews.

“We are focused on creating more short-term opportunities for students, enhancing our volunteer offering and providing locations that are appealing and accessible to as many students as possible.

“We need graduates that are open minded, well rounded and culturally aware,” she added.

Matthews said the UUKi campaign sends a strong message to the government, communities, and businesses of the many benefits to outward student mobility.

“We need graduates that are open minded, well rounded and culturally aware”

“[The campaign] reinforces a positive message outside the UK that we are looking to deepen relationships with our university partners, and that we are open, welcoming universities that value internationalisation.”

Last week, representatives from 22 European higher education bodies signed a statement calling on governments across Europe to speed up negotiations and look at the future of European collaboration.

The Go International: Stand Out campaign has already received widespread support, including a strong endorsement by the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP.

“Employers value the skills that students develop through these placements, including language skills and cultural awareness.  At the same time universities can build partnerships with other institutions around the world, facilitating the exchange of research and teaching,” said Johnson.

“I thoroughly support the campaign to get more young people interested in an overseas placement and would encourage universities and employers to get involved.”

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