Concerns have been raised over the potential damage to UK outward student mobility if Brexit results in loss of access to Erasmus+, as a new report shows that more than half of all study and work trips for undergraduates came via the European Union programme.
According to the Gone International: Mobility Works report, which analyses data from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey, Erasmus+ accounted for 55 per cent of the international experiences of graduates who had completed their courses in 2014-15.
A total of 16,165 UK-domiciled students in this cohort said they had gone overseas as part of their degree study. This represents 7.2 per cent of all respondents, up from 5.4 per cent the year before.
Universities UK International, which compiled the report, notes that much of the growth in outward mobility had been due to increased UK participation in Erasmus+.
While a majority of mobile students going through the programme study modern languages, over a third (38.4 per cent) of non-language students’ mobility was via the scheme.
Erasmus+ was also the most popular mobility scheme among students studying law, accounting for 74 per cent of trips. It facilitated 58 and 55 per cent of computer science and business students’ mobility respectively, and was also popular among mathematics students (44 per cent).
But the UK’s continued participation in the scheme remains uncertain in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union.
Vivienne Stern, director of UUKi, told Times Higher Education that it was crucial for the UK to stay in Erasmus+ because it had been “one of the most important vehicles for improving the proportion of people who go abroad”.
Ms Stern added that if the UK did not stay in Erasmus+, there would have to be a government commitment to fund an alternative scheme. However, she said that creating something equally effective would be a challenge.
“A potential model could be the Swiss European mobility programme, but there are features of that scheme we might find difficult to replicate – they fund both outgoing and incoming mobility,” she said. “An advantage is that it could be international, not just European. [But] Switzerland would still get back in [to Erasmus+], if they could, I think.”
Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, said that he wasn’t as concerned about being part of Erasmus+, but agreed it was “absolutely critical” to have an alternative scheme.
“If we are going to be this outward-looking, global Britain, it’s essential that a lot more of our students spend time abroad,” he said. “I would definitely advocate staying part of it if we can, but I think we should at least in parallel look at setting up our own outward mobility agency.
“Other countries are heading to 50 per cent for outward mobility for their graduates. They are being ambitious; we should be doing the same.”