Going International: why studying abroad matters

Anna Bradshaw is a Policy Officer in our International team here at Universities Scotland. She is in a joint role, also working at British Council Scotland. After attending Go International, Anna blogged on the importance of studying abroad.

Lots of universities understand that giving students the chance to study, work or volunteer abroad is a really important part of providing Scottish students with an international experience. But new research from Go International shows that outward mobility offers much more than an encounter with a different culture and the chance to get some sun. In fact, it’s strongly linked to higher academic achievement, a lower chance of being unemployed and higher wages in the years after graduation.

At Go International 2017: In for the Count, I had the opportunity to spend a day with colleagues from all across the UK Higher Education sector looking at the benefits of outward mobility for students and recent graduates. This included opportunities to hear from experts on Erasmus+ (the most famous mobility programme), speak with fellow policy officers about how to use data more effectively to talk about mobility, and hear from universities that are pushing work to increase participation in outward mobility forward.

But the most exciting results presented at the conference were that the value of outward mobility is particularly pronounced for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and black and minority ethnic students. Employment levels are already high for Scottish graduates but the outward mobility experience seems to give graduates an extra edge when it comes to starting their careers. For example, students from disadvantaged backgrounds who spent some time abroad have an unemployment rate of 4.2% six months after graduation, compared to a 5.4% rate for their non-mobile peers. For black and Asian students, going abroad brought down the unemployment rate from 7.7-8% to 4.5-6%. And both of these findings hold up when controlled for academic attainment.

This is all particularly important for Scotland because Scottish universities send a greater proportion of their students abroad than English or Welsh universities do: 9.7% of all full-time undergraduates, compared to 6.9% in England and 5.3% in Wales. I think that this presents a real opportunity for Scottish universities to link their internationalisation to their commitment to widening access to higher education. We should be supporting students not only to get into university, but to have a fantastic international experience while they’re there, and to have the best possible options afterwards. And outward mobility is a key part of how we do this.

Scottish universities are also at the forefront of good practice in a number of specific areas of outward mobility work, including helping students from subjects that don’t have much of a history of mobility to go abroad. The good practice of two Scottish universities was profiled at Go International 2017: In for the Count:

Prof Ian Murray, Head of School of Nursing and Midwifery, spoke about how Robert Gordon University navigated the requirements placed on study by accrediting bodies to set up their successful nursing and midwifery mobility programmes.  The student nurses and midwives go abroad through Erasmus+ links and longstanding partnerships with universities in the USA and Canada, and they come back better able to work in the international environment of a modern healthcare system.

Pablo Lopez Alonso, European Project Manager at Glasgow Caledonian University, addressed the final plenary session of the conference to explain GCU’s ‘journey to 20%’. Aware of the positive outcomes of outward mobility, and with a student body that has a high proportion of students from widening access backgrounds, GCU has set itself the ambitious target of 20% of its undergraduate students having some overseas experience during their studies.

Going international has long been a feature of university life and institutions are committed more than ever for that experience to be spread across the student body. Long may that continue.


Further reading

Resources from ‘Gone International: In for the Count

Gone International: Mobility Works (report on the 2014-15 graduating cohort)

Go International website

UK Strategy for Outward Student Mobility 2017-20