What next for UK student mobility abroad post-Brexit?

Published 17/03/2023

Traditionally, study abroad involves the exchange of students over a semester or full academic year. As universities try to expand participation in mobility schemes, there is a need to diversify the meaning of studying abroad.

From a UK context, the full impact of Brexit is still yet to seen, as the process of looking again at exchange agreements is beginning – especially as the UK approaches the end of its 10 years in the Erasmus Plus program.

Previously, all our European agreements were Erasmus, so we must look at partnerships, evaluate them, and get them resigned. Furthermore, there are new GDPR legislations that are being implemented in the UK that will affect the way these agreements are developed.

Thus, the UK higher education sector must proactively maintain its position within the mobility arena.

Introducing the Turing Funding Scheme for study abroad as a replacement for Erasmus Plus has led to challenges.

The scheme is intended to cover living costs but, unlike Erasmus Plus, does not cover tuition. It also has a broader geographical scope as it’s not limited to Europe; students can travel worldwide.

As promising as the scheme appears, the application process for students and institutions is still cumbersome and needs to be embedded into the broader system. The minimum travel time requirement is one-month as part of Turing Funding. A month is a long time for a student to take off over the summer; therefore, the diversity of students and the range of opportunities available decreases.

At the University of Hull, we have bridged this gap by offering two-week summer opportunities, which we have developed in partnership with other universities, organisations and donors to help fund scholarships. We are currently exploring how to write it into our budgets. In general, universities will need to find new funding sources to support the maintenance and development of student mobility.

A vital aspect of the current student mobility climate is the myriad of post-Covid, economic and geopolitical factors that have increased the cost of living. This impacts the perceived importance and affordability of mobility for both institutions and students.

“There are fewer mobility places for students”

Scholarships and funding availability for students and institutions alike are fundamental for reviving the availability of student mobility opportunities. There are fewer mobility places for students, so universities must find efficient and effective ways to develop systems that can lead to more options.

The fragmented mobility systems need to scale and provide adequate student funding, with facilities and specific programs leading mobility partnerships. Consequently, universities need to reinvest in mobility systems that can promote innovation in exchange approaches. The sector should continue to embrace shorter-termer-term mobility opportunities increasing the diversification into summer schools, volunteering, field trips and study tours.

The University of Hull has intentionally sought to internationalise the UK campus. This has involved integrating the university’s growing international student population into how the institution works—creating opportunities for all students to have cultural exchanges and understand different ways of interacting and engaging with challenges.

The benefits of student mobility are necessary to enhance the student experience and develop employability skills.

Universities UK International shows the benefit of mobility, and in the last year or so, it has done reports on it. Short-term mobility can make a massive impact on students’ soft skills.

A better term than soft skills would be essential skills – curiosity, problem solving, all those things that will benefit students. Stats also show that mobility boosts employability.

Historically universities have put an awful lot of weight on the careers team. Especially for students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds, as there is a need to widen their mindsets.

But now the higher education sector needs to prioritise innovating and look for unconventional ways to expand student and staff engagement globally.

About the author: This is a sponsored post by Alice McLuckie, head of Global Experience, University of Hull. Alice has over a decade of experience working in Higher Education in the UK, specialising in student mobility opportunities. As Head of Global Experience, she oversees the team responsible for study abroad programs, short courses, summer schools, English language provision and internationalisation on campus.

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