International Campus

UK aims to double number of students going abroad by 2020

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said the 13.2% target is both "achievable" and "realistic".

Universities UK International has updated its strategy to boost outward mobility which includes doubling the number of students who go abroad during their degree to 13.2% of total enrolments by 2020.

The strategy was introduced at UUKi’s annual Go International conference, on April 25 in London, and outlines six objectives the sector will seek to achieve the goal.

In 2014/15, 6.6% of full-time, first degree, undergraduate, UK-domiciled students undertook an international placement, either studying or working, as part of their degree.

Some 16,000 UK-domiciled graduates responding to the 2014/15 DLHE survey reported having at least one period abroad of one week or longer as part of their undergraduate degree.

“Initially we were looking at just increasing the proportion [of students] who spend some time overseas”

The numerical target of doubling this proportion to 13.2% by 2020, said Vivienne Stern, director of UUKi, is both “achievable” and “realistic”.

The first national strategy for outward mobility was launched in 2013. However, there is now a “new urgency” to increase the number of students with overseas experiences, said Stern.

“The decision to leave the European Union, the uncertainty over whether or not we’ll be able to access the Erasmus program in particular and the need to build and maintain political support to invest in supporting outbound mobility, means that I think our strategy has to change,” she said at the event.

This second phase of the national strategy calls for campaigning at the political level for support and investment in outward mobility, added Stern.

Influencing government for UK higher education is one of the strategy’s objectives, along with promoting the benefits of working and studying abroad, and monitoring trends in student mobility.

Building capacity in UK higher education to facilitate outward mobility, sharing best practice in UK higher education, and providing a collective voice for the sector are also among the strategy’s goals.

Having the numerical target will give the sector an extra boost, commented Raegan Hiles, head of outbound mobility programs (HEGlobal and Go International), at UUKi.

“Initially we were looking at just increasing the proportion [of students] who spend some time overseas,” she told The PIE News. “To add some kind of energy through the target though, that is the natural next step.

“Of course we had to work out what the baseline was first, so it’s almost like we couldn’t have done that when we started, but now we can.”

Expanding opportunities for study and work abroad will also be integral to achieving the target, delegates heard.

“Ultimately it’s up to institutions to grow their own mobility, but a large part of what we do is giving them the tools, giving them the information in particular to do that,” said Hiles.

She added that institutions are also looking more at “making sure that underrepresented groups are much more involved”.

UUKi is in the process of developing a report and toolkit on how to widen participation in outward mobility for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups – a cohort, which, according to the latest Gone International report, benefit greatly from a period abroad.

“No one has lost the momentum or the energy behind recognising the bonuses that outward mobility brings”

And continuing to participate in Erasmus+ has been flagged as a priority for the sector in order to maintain strong outbound links. Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor at University of the Arts London, said the UK needs to “ensure we are part of Erasmus+ post-Brexit”.

“That requires us to be working hard now with David Davis and the Brexit team, to try to emphasise to them … this is about the UK’s commercial and cultural benefit and strength for the future,” he told delegates at the conference.

Hiles said EU partner institutions, meanwhile, have come out in support of continuing to work with UK universities.

“We have a basis for continued participation and continued growth,” she said.

“Yes the years ahead may be challenging, we don’t know what it will look like, but no one has lost the momentum or the energy behind recognising the bonuses that outward mobility brings, and wanting to achieve them.”