By Katherine Allinson, Policy Researcher, UUKi
World Access to Higher Education Day is a new day of awareness that aims to bring global attention to inequality in access to higher education and accelerate action.
Universities across the UK are working hard to improve access to higher education for all students regardless of their background. Through their institutional access plans and commitments, universities commit to activities that will support and enable all those who wish to study for a degree to do so. Across the UK, in each of the four nations there are agreements in place between universities and government which outline what actions and activities universities will do to ensure that access to higher education is as equitable as possible.
However, working to improve access cannot be limited to students enrolling at universities: students must be encouraged to access all parts of the university experience. This includes not just academic pursuits, but also the extra-curricular activities that broaden students’ skillsets, such as student politics, societies, and sports teams.
The benefits of mobility
Outward mobility, that is, students enrolled on UK programmes going abroad to study, work or volunteer during their degree, is offered to students across the sector. Research shows that students who go abroad during their studies get better degrees and better jobs: mobile students are 19% more likely to be awarded a first-class honours, 10% more likely to be in a graduate level job, earn a 7% wage premium and are 20% less likely to be unemployed when compared to peers who remain in the UK. Mobility expands mindsets, exposes students to new experiences and contributes to personal growth. Currently, only 6.6% of the UK student population go abroad during their degree programme. The Go International Stand Out campaign aims to double this percentage by 2020.
So why do more students not take up the chance to go abroad? Barriers to mobility cited by students include finance, concerns around language ability and extending the length of degree programmes. However, for some students, even further obstacles exist. UUKi’s Widening Participation in UK Outward Student Mobility project looked at participation in mobility by students from less-advantaged backgrounds. The project found that the number of students participating in outward student mobility has increased since 2013 but that a participation gap remained.
Mobility and underrepresented groups
The Gone International 2018 report showed that more advantaged students participate in mobility at a rate of 8.7% whereas less advantaged students participate at a rate of 5.1%. This gap in participation is even more disappointing since the positive outcomes enjoyed by students who are mobile, better degrees and better jobs, are even more pronounced for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds: Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students who go abroad are 17% more likely to be in a graduate job and mobile mature students earn a 10% wage premium.
Clearly more needs to be done to support students to go abroad. The project includes a toolkit of good practice and guidance for universities to ensure wide and open access to mobility. Institutions should think about the needs of different groups and tailor their support to reflect those requirements. Key findings from the project show that short-term mobility is more attractive to disadvantaged and underrepresented groups – offering more short-term study opportunities abroad could benefit students who face barriers to longer-term mobility including cost, responsibilities at home (such as caring duties or paid work) and less flexibility in the length of their degree programme.
Going abroad can fundamentally change lives for the better. Many of our institutions are already delivering programmes and support packages to enable less-advantaged students to be mobile. On World Access to Higher Education Day let us renew our commitment to ensuring that outward mobility programmes are open, supportive and attractive to all students.