UUKi: ‘Short-term mobility: long-term impact’ report


Shorter mobility programmes break down barriers to participation and deliver impact, finds new UUKi report.

A new report by UUKi: ‘Short-term mobility: long-term impact’ has found that mobility programmes of just a few weeks can provide tangible outcomes for students.

The research surveyed 749 students and ran 17 student focus groups to understand more about students’ and universities’ experiences of such programmes. It found that international experiences of less than four weeks had a significant personal and professional impact on participants and helped break down barriers to international experiences.

In a foreword to the report, Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP Former Universities Minister and Co-Chair of the All Party Group on Universities noted: ‘Study placements do not have to be lengthy to provide these moments of inspiration that after all can have an impact of a lifetime. The challenge for us all in the higher education community is ensuring that as many students as possible get to experience these opportunities, and to have an equal chance to share the wonderful and memorable fulfilment, no matter how short, that studying abroad can deliver.’

Shorter mobility programmes are often a highly focused and structured programme of activities, rather than the more traditional semesters or years abroad. Such experiences were reported to provide students with an international experience that enables them to continue with commitments at home, and avoids disrupting existing study, as they are often designed to complement study modules. Additional benefits reported included lower and more transparent costs, access to funding opportunities, and a greater understanding of what to expect during the time abroad.

At a university like Sheffield Hallam, which in the UK has the highest number of students from under-represented backgrounds, including those leaving care, mature students, and low-income households, the prospect of studying overseas for a semester is a non-starter.  That we now have more evidence short term mobility has such a significant impact in improving self-confidence and employment prospects, this should be a ‘call to arms’ for all our universities to provide and support short term mobility opportunities to widen access to international higher education for all.

James Richardson, Director of Global Development & Partnerships, Sheffield Hallam University

Joseph, an Engineering student at The University of Sheffield, explained how the length and timing of the programme was beneficial for him, ‘I enjoyed that it was short and in summer because it meant that I could come back to Sheffield and start where I’d left off. My studies weren’t interrupted and I could just spend the year learning with the friends that I’d made in first year.’

Particular outcomes were reported around employability, with over half (53%) of participants who had undertaken a short-term mobility experience and are now in work feeling that their short-term mobility experienced helped them to get their current job. 83% of this group felt their short-term mobility experience had been beneficial to their career.  Students also reported increases in personal skills, with almost all participants seeing increases in their self- confidence (88%), communication skills (93%), adaptability (93%), intercultural skills and interpersonal skills (89%).

The importance of graduates with a global perspective cannot be overstated. We already know that international experiences do not and should not look the same for all students. This project tells us that shorter programmes which fit around existing commitments allow students who may not otherwise have considered a period abroad to take one up. It also tells us that taking up such global opportunities can lead to employment, greater confidence and increased international engagement.

Professor Alexandra Hughes, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement and Employability, University of Westminster, and Chair of the project’s steering group.

These benefits can be particularly felt by under-represented groups in traditional mobility programmes, for whom longer periods of mobility can be more challenging – such as those with from a lower-income households and those with caring responsibilities.

Our aim is for universities to learn from the findings and best practice presented in the report and make the most of the benefits presented by short-term mobility to ensure that any student, no matter their background, can participate in an international experience. To support this aim, we encourage the UK government to consider these findings, and the impact demonstrated, in their review of the UK’s Turing Scheme.

Vivienne Stern, Director, Universities UK International

Short international programmes were found to encourage further international engagement in many cases – with a quarter of respondents having already participated in another mobility programme, and 43% interested in or planning to go abroad with the university again. The findings also indicated that participants would be more likely to engage with international activity back at home, with 74% of participants agreeing they would be more likely to engage with international students on campus following the experience, and 72% more likely to take part in international opportunities on campus.

Providing and communicating financial support, getting institutional buy-in and bolstering pre-departure support were identified as key recommendations for institutions looking to implement short-term mobility programmes. Case studies from UK universities showed that programmes which have students participating from different year levels and diverse disciplines are particularly successful and enhances the student experience. They also showed that academic staff involvement is critical in creating innovative programmes which give students the opportunity to study their subject in different global contexts and to develop networks with their international peers.

To download the full report, please click here.