How do international activities benefit UK higher education?

International activities – such as studying or training abroad – help students and education staff to boost their skills, career and confidence.

The benefits don’t end there. We take a closer look at how Erasmus+ is helping individuals, higher education institutions (HEIs), and wider society.

Boosting skills and careers for students and staff

Each year, around 18,000 UK higher education students go abroad on a funded Erasmus+ placement to study or undertake a traineeship – a great way to develop new skills, gain international experience and boost their employability.  Around 4,500 UK higher education staff teach or train abroad each year through Erasmus+ funding to develop professional practice, build relationships with international peers and gain fresh ideas. 

Student Virginia Stuart-Taylor during her Erasmus+ placement

Released in May 2019, the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Higher Education Impact Study assessed the impact of such international mobilities on higher education students and staff, based on responses from over 77,000 people. 

In terms of students, the study found that Erasmus+ strengthens skills and competences that are vital to industry. Nine in ten Erasmus+ students reported improvements in adaptability, communication skills and intercultural competences.

This uplift in skills leads to better employability and career prospects:

  • 72% of Erasmus(+) graduates stated that Erasmus+ had been beneficial or very beneficial for them in finding their first job;
  • 40% of participants who went on a traineeship were offered a job position at the host company/organisation;
  • 66% of Erasmus(+) graduates characterise their jobs as “high income” than in the case of non-mobile graduates (58%); and
  • Erasmus(+) graduates are more likely to have a job with an international dimension. 23% of Erasmus(+) graduates started their job in a country different to their country of origin, compared to 15% in the case of non-mobile graduates.  

As well as boosting employability, Erasmus+ is shown to foster social cohesion. 95% of participants reported to have learned to better get along with people from different cultures, whilst half reported that after their mobility they stand even more against discrimination, intolerance, xenophobia or racism. 

95% of participants reported to have learned to better get along with people from different cultures.

The benefits of mobility placements for staff are just as compelling. Staff who take part in an Erasmus+ mobility make greater use of innovative teaching methods and connect with the labour market more often than their peers. Around 60% reported to use learning in multidisciplinary groups, and incorporate IT and use Open Educational Resources into their teaching - compared to less than 45% of non-mobile staff. 

Erasmus+ mobility also improves the intercultural understanding and social skills of higher education staff. 91% of staff reported a gain in intercultural competencies and 86% reported an increase in their social competencies, compared to 85% and 78% respectively from other mobility programmes. 

Around nine in ten HEIs taking part in the study reported Erasmus+ to be very important or essential for them. 

Strategic Partnerships

Erasmus+ also provides funding for Strategic Partnerships, enabling UK HEIs to run collaborative projects with international HEIs and other organisations. 

Staff from the University of Northampton during their Erasmus+ project

From 2014 to 2018, €24.1m was awarded for 79 UK-led Key Action 2 Strategic Partnership projects. The focus for these projects is on innovation, cooperation and the exchange of good practice. 

Published in May 2019, the Study on the impact of Erasmus+ Higher Education Partnerships and Knowledge Alliances at local, national and European levels on key higher education policy priorities shows that Strategic Partnerships drive innovation and excellence in higher education:

  • More than 90% of HEIs have indicated that Strategic Partnerships improve the quality and relevance of higher education curricula/learning and teaching;

  • 85% of HEIs consider projects to have directly contributed to innovation in pedagogical skills; and

  • 55% of Higher Education Strategic Partnerships produced updated or new courses/curricula, 40% produced innovative teaching materials and around 33% of projects developed digital platforms/e-learning tools. 

This in turn supports dynamic industries. Four in five HEIs feel better equipped to tackle the skills mismatch in the labour market by fostering interdisciplinary approaches, facilitating better IT integration and strongly supporting development and application of innovative pedagogies. A third of projects, at least to some extent, led to the creation of spin-offs and start-ups, directly contributing to the emergence of entrepreneurs. 

In 90% of Strategic Partnerships, cooperation between universities continued beyond the scope of their project.

Nine out of ten HEIs taking part in Strategic Partnerships are more internationally oriented as a result of the cooperation established through the projects. Better still, in 90% of Strategic Partnerships, cooperation between universities continued beyond the scope of their project.

In terms of personal impact, according to 82% of HEIs, students taking part in Strategic Partnerships improved their social, civic and intercultural competences, and also enhanced their digital and entrepreneurial skills, creativity and teamwork. 

Likewise, in more than 60% of projects, the teaching staff involved advanced their pedagogical skills through increased participation in innovative blended mobility formats, learning new teaching methods that incorporated IT and being exposed to the benefits of working in international teams.

See what HEIs have achieved with Erasmus+ funding by reading their project stories.