Brussels, 10 Aug 2004
In light of a decline in outward mobility of Erasmus students from the UK compared with other EU countries, and an imbalance between incoming and outgoing students to and from the UK as a whole, new research commissioned to identify the causes has discovered a direct link between the decline in international mobility and a fall in the number students studying languages.
The analysis was carried out by the Sussex centre for migration research at the University of Sussex, and was commissioned following discussions among a wide group of stakeholders. These discussions revealed that 'while there was much anecdotal evidence of the underlying reasons for the imbalance, there were few available data and there were gaps in the collective knowledge.'
The report sought to examine the different types of UK student mobility, the factors that influence students' mobility choices, and the way in which higher education institutions manage mobility. This was achieved by bringing together a range of previously uncollected data with findings from specially commissioned surveys, as well as a new analysis of existing data.
Although the UK has higher rates of outward mobility than many other English-speaking countries, such as the US and Australia, it has lower rates than most other EU countries. Additionally, foreign students in the UK outnumber UK students studying abroad by a factor of two to one. There is a concern that low levels of international mobility will reduce the numbers of cosmopolitan and multilingual graduates, thus harming the UK's competitiveness.
The study found that a lack of language ability is the number one factor which students cite as a reason against going to a non-Anglophone country. The second most cited inhibitor to student mobility was concern over the financial impact of time spent studying abroad. There was also evidence to suggest that, rather than pure study visits, there is an increased demand for placements that involve full or part time work.
The report cautions that the decline in UK Erasmus student flows to Europe should be set against the growth of other types of student mobility and flows to other destinations: 'It may be, therefore, that the decline in UK outward mobility to other countries in Europe is affected by a complex interplay of several factors, such as decline in language ability, limited opportunities for paid work placements, and the perceived high standards and marketability of US or other Anglophone education systems.'
Specifically in terms of the imbalance between outgoing and incoming students from and to the UK, the report notes that only a third of higher education institutions have a specific plan for student mobility, and that promoting outward mobility is less of a priority to most than increasing the recruitment of fee-paying overseas students.
The benefits of international mobility appear clear, however, with 90 per cent of students who studied abroad as part of their course expressing the belief that the experience had enhanced their personal and professional development. Of those who had been abroad, relatively few encountered any major problems. Finance, the most often cited difficulty, was mentioned by only 22 per cent of students.
The authors of the study argue that a number of policy implications arise from their work. First, they point to a need for more complete and regularly collected data on student mobility, as well as a need for higher education institutions to be more proactive in promoting student mobility in universities, colleges and schools.
Financial and linguistic restraints are hindering international mobility, they argue, and there is an under provision of work and mixed work-study schemes which respond to current student demand. Consideration should be given to language learning at all levels in the UK educational system, as well as to ways in which international mobility can be broadened to include students from different social and financial backgrounds, the authors conclude.
Finally, the report recommends that further research be carried out on the benefits and outcomes of student mobility, in particular, on whether international mobility can give UK graduates greater currency in the labour market, and how this benefits the UK.
To download a copy of the report, please consult the following web address: