Supporting wider participation in higher education mobility

Erasmus+ gives higher education students from all walks of life the opportunity to study or work abroad, to develop new skills, raise their aspirations and boost employability.

However, research shows that although less advantaged students have the most to gain from a period abroad, they are the least likely to take part. We look at how higher education institutions (HEIs) can encourage and support disadvantaged students to take part.

Erasmus+ and COVID-19

The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) released a report on the initial impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on student exchanges in Europe. It builds on a survey published in March 2020 in which 22,000 international students and trainees in Europe provided information about their experiences, at a time when the crisis was escalating. The report assesses the initial impact on mobility, noting the importance to give additional support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, during the recovery process after the COVID-19 crisis. This is to ensure that the mobility opportunities for less advantaged students do not decrease over time.

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Key trends and challenges

Universities UK International's (UUKi) Gone International: Rising Aspirations (2019) report shows, for the fifth year running, a correlation between students being mobile and experiencing positive outcomes after graduation. They are 28% more likely to get a first-class degree, 26% less likely to be unemployed, are 7% more likely to be in a graduate role and earn on average a 5.5% higher starting salary just six months after graduation. Despite these positive outcomes, only 7.2% of UK undergraduates take up the opportunity to be mobile during their degree and disadvantaged learners are less likely to participate.

Katherine Allinson, Policy Researcher, Outward Mobility, UUKi said: “Research shows that students who go abroad get better degrees and better jobs. Students who are mobile also develop global networks and gain self-confidence. While the number of students from less advantaged backgrounds taking part in mobility programmes is increasing, a participation gap remains, with students from more advantaged backgrounds more likely to go abroad. More needs to be done to ensure all students regardless of background can access international opportunities”.

Project participant smiling

Widening participation projects

“We noted that the impact of these uncertain times will compound the barriers to taking part in mobility that students from disadvantaged backgrounds experience”, Wim Gabriels, ESN comments. Therefore, in order to better understand the wider challenges young people face when studying abroad, ESN, in partnership with UUKi and other organisations across Europe, has launched a new survey, ‘Social Inclusion and Engagement in Mobility’.

The survey for students and university staff members is open until 15 June 2020. The outcomes of the project will lead to a better understanding of the barriers and enablers of mobility for students, ensuring more equitable access for all students, regardless of background. The staff survey will inform a research report with recommendations to improve the support offered to students who wish to go abroad. The results will be published and available free of charge on the SIEM project website.

‘Enhancing a thought-out Policy and Framework on Inclusive Mobility across Europe’ (EPFIME) is a Key Action 3 project co-funded by Erasmus+, delivered by SIHO in Flanders. It focuses on support for students living with disability to access mobility opportunities. The project aims to produce guidance and a self-assessment tool for HEIs to support student mobility, as well as an online platform providing information for students. 

UUKi’s Widening Participation in Outward Mobility project, funded by Erasmus+, produced a toolkit for HEIs to support open access to mobility programmes. A key recommendation of this project is that universities diversify their mobility offer, to enable higher levels of student engagement. One way of achieving this is through short-term mobility. Supported by the British Council and the Northern Consortium, UUKi is delivering a project looking at the impact of short-term programmes and providing good practice models to deliver them.

Erasmus+ additional support

Erasmus+ project participant Andrea Sapundjija smiling

Erasmus+ aims to be inclusive and accessible and provides additional funding to support to those with disabilities and special educational needs, covering costs such as travel assistance, medical attendance and supportive equipment via a supplementary Grant Agreement that is assessed and countersigned by the UK National Agency. Find out how a former Erasmus+ student Andrea Sapundjija (pictured right) used the extra funding to support her year abroad.

Widening participation top-up

There is also a widening participation top-up available to support socio-economically disadvantaged students, who currently receive an extra €120 per month on top of their grant (study abroad) or an additional €20 if they are carrying out a traineeship.

Good practice examples

Universities are already working to support more underrepresented groups to go abroad and UUKi’s Widening Participation in Outward Student Mobility Toolkit (3.5 MB) highlights some of these institutions.

Tools and resources

UUKi’s Go International: Stand Out campaign launched a digital downloadable toolkit of student-facing content, practitioner guidance and event materials, to further support universities in sending more students abroad.

Irish Universities Association has also developed a mobility toolkit to support the wider participation of under-represented students in mobility.

The Erasmus Student Network project, MappED!, website provides an info centre for students and universities, with best practices and stories from students with special needs who have taken part in Erasmus+. Additionally, they have developed a tool to search information on accessibility for a particular university and its surrounding area.

HEIs should apply for Erasmus+ funding as soon as possible and always before the start of the person’s placement. HEIs can find out more about the application process for disability funding.