The proportion of students who are “outwardly mobile” should be included as part of the criteria for university rankings to encourage institutions to send more students abroad.
That is the view of Ruth Sinclair-Jones, director of the UK National Agency for Erasmus+, the European study abroad scheme, who added that more than half the UK students in the programme come from just 21 out of 160 participating institutions.
Speaking on 23 June at a Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar on increasing outward student mobility, she said: “It would be helpful to see league tables include the proportion of outwardly mobile students as part of the internationalisation indicator for institutions so we can really see that it matters. It tends to be that what is measured is what matters.”
She added that raising awareness of study abroad and providing language support while students are still at school would also help to increase participation in studying overseas.
“It has to start at school level – that interest, that awareness, that first taste that leads to confidence that they can learn even if they don’t have very advanced language skills,” she said.
The view was echoed by Rebecca Hughes, director of international higher education at the British Council, who was also speaking at the event.
“One of the things we need to start working on is encouraging our six-year-olds and 14-year-olds to understand more about the world, learn a language, have fun with international facts and figures and become young internationalists,” she said.
“We try to encourage mobility in the first year of a degree programme – that’s probably too late.”
Anne Marie Graham, head of the outward student mobility programme at the UK Higher Education International Unit, said that universities need to record how much students improve academically after studying abroad.
“Universities aren’t systematically measuring [how students] are doing before they go away and seeing how much better they are performing academically when they come back, whether they are away for a short period, semester or year abroad.
“Certainly, what has come out of our research, is that many [academics] felt that [measuring performance after study abroad] was something their institution or the sector as a whole would benefit from,” she said.