Which European countries are best at facilitating student mobility?

A comparison of some of the national policies aimed at addressing student mobility

December 20, 2016
Map of Europe
Source: iStock

How do countries across Europe compare in facilitating students to study abroad? A report released by the European Commission earlier this month looked in-depth at the issue, and here are some of its findings.


UK

Proportion of mobile students: 0.7 per cent
Proportion of mobile graduates: 0.5 per cent

The UK has the lowest degree mobility rates of students and graduates of the 31 analysed countries that had data, and it is the only nation with less than 1 per cent of mobile students.

However, the country is the top destination for students in the 35 countries assessed; it was host to 40 per cent of European students who graduated outside their home country in 2012-13.

According to the European Commission, the strongest aspects of the UK’s mobility programme are the information and guidance on opportunities for students and the support given to students from low socio-economic backgrounds; however, it is the only country where the former strategy is exclusively conceived for outward mobility, perhaps because of the very low numbers of UK students going abroad to study.

In addition, the UK is one of only three European countries assessed that lacks a national system for recognising qualifications from other European countries (along with Greece and Serbia); the responsibility for this lies with individual universities.

Meanwhile, loans and grants can be used for studying abroad only within recognised schemes such as Erasmus, and targeted mobility grants are limited to a small number of selected universities in the European Union.


Belgium

Proportion of mobile students: 2.4 per cent
Proportion of mobile graduates: 3.3 per cent

It is compulsory for children in Belgium to study a foreign language for at least 15 years – the longest period of any country analysed. 

Of the education systems assessed, Belgium’s is the only one with a defined target on the participation of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in mobility programmes; the Flemish community is aiming for 33 per cent of mobile students to come from under-represented groups by 2020.

The Flemish-speaking region of Belgium is the best area at facilitating mobility in the country, and among the best in the whole of Europe, providing information and guidance to students, allowing portability of grants and loans, and implementing a recognition system based on the trust of degrees issued in countries in the European Higher Education Area. Overall, its strategy has a very strong focus on outward mobility.

In contrast, the country’s French community allows portability of grants and loans only in exceptional cases where no equivalent programme is available within the community.

Almost half of Belgium’s intake of mobile European students come from France (48 per cent). 


Denmark

Proportion of mobile students: 1.3 per cent
Proportion of mobile graduates: 1.7 per cent

Denmark is one of just a few European countries that offer mobility support to all or almost all students, rather than just a selective cohort.

Although it has no overarching strategy, nationwide initiative or delegated body charged with providing information and guidance to students, and while recognition of qualifications is limited, pupils in the country must learn two foreign languages at the same time for at least five years and there is a high level of public grant support.


Germany

Proportion of mobile students: 3.9 per cent
Proportion of mobile graduates: 5.1 per cent

All students in Germany are eligible for standard needs-based support and for additional mobility support to cover travel expenses, study fees and living costs. The country monitors the participation of students from low socio-economic backgrounds in mobility programmes through a survey conducted every three years.

Its mobility strategy is heavily focused on outward mobility, and it has a publicly funded centre charged with assisting individual learners interested in studying abroad.

The portability of grants to be used to cover the cost of degree study in other countries is limited to EU nations and Switzerland.


Bulgaria

Proportion of mobile students: 7.8 per cent
Proportion of mobile graduates: 6.6 per cent

Bulgaria is the weakest European country analysed in the mobility scoreboard; it provides no guidance on mobility to its students; students cannot benefit from loans if they study abroad for a short or long period; there is no support for disadvantaged students; and the country does not recognise learning outcomes through the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.

Recognition of qualifications obtained abroad is also limited.

More than half of Bulgaria’s intake of mobile European students come from Turkey (52 per cent).


Netherlands

Proportion of mobile students: Unavailable
Proportion of mobile graduates: 2.1 per cent

The Netherlands is the second most popular destination country for mobile European students, with 9 per cent of graduates being based at a Dutch university in 2012-13. More than half (52 per cent) of these graduates were from Germany.

The country is generally good at providing information on mobility and allowing portability of loans to other countries. But foreign language preparation is weaker than many other nations; pupils are required to study two foreign languages for only a short period, less than five years, before upper secondary education.


Luxembourg

Proportion of mobile students: Unavailable
Proportion of mobile graduates: 68.1 per cent

Luxembourg has the highest proportion of mobile graduates, just ahead of Cyprus (63 per cent). Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of the European graduates in the country are from France, Belgium or Germany, while the largest proportion of mobile Luxembourg graduates are based at institutions in Germany (34 per cent).

Learning a foreign language is compulsory for 13 years, and generally pupils have to learn at least two simultaneously for 12 years.

The country also helps to facilitate student mobility by providing unrestricted portability of all domestic support for short-term and long-term study-abroad trips. At least half of all students in the country benefit from at least some financial support.


Slovakia

Proportion of mobile students: 14 per cent
Proportion of mobile graduates: 10.5 per cent

The European Commission suggests that the high proportion of Slovakian students enrolling at a university outside the country could be a consequence of the small size of the student population and the limited offer of the education system. More than three-quarters of mobile Slovakian students were at institutions in the Czech Republic in 2012-13.

Since September 2015, pupils in Slovakia have been required to learn two foreign languages at the same time for at least four years, instead of the previous eight years. Meanwhile, public grants are provided to less than 15 per cent of the student population, while less than 1 per cent take up public loans.

Automatic recognition of qualifications obtained abroad is in place for some countries through bilateral agreements.

Although many other European countries focus on mobility for its own sake, Slovakia’s strategy in this area is framed within the broader goal for educational development and lifelong learning opportunities, according to the European Commission.


Note: The first figure shows the proportion of students enrolled in a higher education programme delivered by an institution located abroad in 2012-13. The European Union average is 3.1 per cent. The second figure relates to the proportion of students who graduated in the 2012-13 academic year in an education system outside their home country. The EU average is 2.9 per cent.

Source: Mobility Scoreboard: Higher Education Background Report, European Commission. The information relates to the 2015-16 year and covers the 28 EU member states, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.

ellie.bothwell@tesglobal.com

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