Widening Participation in UK outward student mobility

A recent report by Universities UK International (UUKi) looks at the extent to which disadvantaged students spend time abroad as part of their undergraduate degree. It was written as part of the ‘Widening Participation in UK Outward Student Mobility’ project, supported by the UK National Agency and the Department for Education. Here Katherine Allinson, Policy Researcher at Universities UK International, tells us about the key findings from the report.

“Outward mobility is incredibly important: research shows that students who are mobile during their studies get better degrees and better jobs. Mobility expands mindsets, exposes students to new experiences and contributes to personal growth. Barriers to UK student mobility that are often cited include finance, concerns around language ability and extending the length of students’ degrees. However, for some students, even further obstacles exist.

Who are the underrepresented student groups?

UUKi’s latest report Widening Participation in UK Outward Student Mobility analyses the level of participation in study, work or volunteering abroad programmes of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds between 2013 and 2016. The report focuses on the participation of underrepresented groups including: students from a low socio-economic background; students from low participation neighbourhoods; black and minority ethnic students; students with a disability, and students who are care leavers. It also looks at how duration, location, programme and type of mobility affects the level of participation by students.

The report found that the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds participating in outward student mobility has increased since 2013; however, these groups are still underrepresented when compared to the whole student body. The report also found varying participation rates within each demographic, and that students who fall into more than one of the groups we looked at (those with overlapping identities) are even less likely to spend time abroad than their peers. Short-term mobility opportunities proved to be very popular across all five groups and the growth in work abroad opportunities was strongest among the disadvantaged groups in the report.

Widening participation through the Erasmus+ programme

Erasmus+ allows students to overcome these obstacles by providing funding, online linguistic support and by offering credit-bearing exchanges. The programme provides valuable support to students in the UK who may be unable to spend time overseas otherwise. In 2015–16, 45% of all UK student mobility was through the Erasmus+ programme. Every Erasmus+ student studying or working abroad is eligible for monthly grants and students from a more disadvantaged background, or students with a disability, can apply for additional support to ease the financial burden of studying or working abroad.

Short-term mobilities

The preference for short-term mobility by students from more disadvantaged backgrounds was noted in the UUKi’s submission to the European Commission’s Erasmus+ midterm review. When asked what further measures could be introduced to stimulate increased UK participation from this group in Erasmus+ mobility, UK universities who responded to our survey (50 institutions) identified funding for short-term mobility opportunities (90%) and summer schools (85%) as the most popular responses, while 56% of respondents wanted even more financial support for widening participation students.

The review noted that “(al)most every comment called for short-term mobility options to be introduced” and that these comments “often highlighted the link to WP as, if a student is not able to study or work abroad for a long period of time as a result of their financial background or caring responsibilities, short-term options could prove vital in raising UK participation further still”. Taken together, the mid-term review and our new report present a strong case for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+ and for a more flexible approach to the duration of mobility periods within the scheme. A future Erasmus+ programme that included mobility of less than two months would make an already accessible scheme even more so to students from disadvantaged backgrounds

Universities UK has set out a series of policy priorities to support universities to thrive post exit from the EU. These include continued access to the Erasmus+ programme. Erasmus+ is an important part of the UK’s outward student mobility offer, and retaining access is one of the many ways that we can deliver against the goals of the Widening Participation in UK Outward Student Mobility project, by making sure that mobility is available in as many forms and to as many students as possible.

group of exchange students

What’s next?

The report is the first stage of the project and offers a picture of the current mobility landscape. The second phase, launching this Autumn, will be a toolkit to support universities and further education colleges in developing effective strategies to increase participation in mobility programmes by students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds. If you are interested in submitting a case study for inclusion in the toolkit please contact Katherine Allinson at UUKi directly.”

You can visit and post any suggestions for the future of the programme on the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Generation Online Meeting Point.

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