Graduates who have studied, worked or volunteered abroad are more likely to have a job six months after graduating, and on average they are earning slightly more than other graduates, a new report says.
These are the findings of the first national analysis of mobile students and their outcomes, published by the UK Higher Education International Unit’s Go International programme.
The report, Gone International: Mobile students and their outcomes, examines where students go to study abroad and the academic and initial employment outcomes of international experience as a UK undergraduate, comparing them with those of non-mobile students.
Some of the key findings include:
- A lower proportion of graduates who were mobile were unemployed (5.4% compared to 6.7%);
- A higher proportion of graduates in employment who were mobile were working abroad (11% of those in full-time work compared to 2%);
- On average, graduates who were mobile earned more across 11 out of 17 subject areas and earned more if they remained in the UK to work;
- Graduates who were mobile were earning more in 40 out of 67 subjects, with the highest disparities in salary (of at least £3,000) being in sociology; computer science; theology and religious studies; electronic and electrical engineering, and physical geographical sciences.
Vivienne Stern, director of the UK HE International Unit, whose objective is to increase the proportion of UK students who have an international experience while at university, said the analysis is the first step in testing the hypothesis that mobility has a positive impact on the academic and employment outcomes of undergraduate students.
It will be used as a baseline for future research to identify relationships between mobility and outcomes.
“If we want to encourage students to think about spending some time abroad, we need to be able to show them what they will get out of it,” she said. “While qualitative evidence of the benefits of international experience is widely available, there is little quantitative evidence to support this.”
The report examines the academic attainment, salary and employment outcomes of students who spent time abroad during their degree programme – studying, working or volunteering –compared with their non-mobile peers six months after graduation.
It outlines the profiles of 233,185 UK-domiciled first degree undergraduates who graduated in 2012-13. Some 10,520 of these were identified as being mobile at some point during their course.
Stern said higher education systems and governments worldwide are recognising the importance of giving more students an international experience as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate study, particularly through work and study placements abroad.
“Many countries, including the US and Germany, have invested in national strategies to raise awareness and increase participation by a wide range of students,” she said.
“With this investment it is increasingly important to demonstrate the impact of outward student mobility in higher education to the individual and to the sector to ensure continued strategic support.”
Other key findings in the report include that 87% of mobile students achieved first or upper second class degrees compared with 69% of non-mobile students, although this may also reflect the fact that some mobility opportunities are based on academic performance.
Among subject areas, 39% of STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – graduates who were mobile achieved a first class degrees compared with 21% of STEM graduates who were not mobile. However, only 1.7% of STEM students go abroad.
In some STEM subjects there were stark differences in the rate of unemployment between mobile and non-mobile students. Among computer science graduates, for instance, the rate of unemployment was 6.8% for mobile students but nearly double that (12.3%) for non-mobile students. In engineering technology the rate of unemployment for mobile students was 4.1% but for non-mobile students it was 7.8%.
The report found that in many cases graduates who had been mobile earn slightly more than those who had not.
Another interesting finding was that a significantly lower proportion of graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds who were mobile were unemployed – 5% compared to 7.6% for non-mobile students.
There were also important gender differences. Surprisingly there is sharp difference in the number of mobile female (5.1%) and male students (3.8%). Some 70% of mobile language students were female and 30% were male, while 59% of mobile non-language students were female and 42% were male.
The report stresses that it does not seek to imply or demonstrate causation between outward mobility and student outcomes. Instead the aim is to note interesting outcomes and provide a baseline to compare with future cohorts.
The report found that 4.5% of students who graduated in 2012-13 had at least one period of mobility between 2010-11 and 2012-13.
Language students made up the largest proportion of mobile students (38%), followed by business and administration students (11%), linguistics and social studies (both 8%) and those studying art and design (6%).
Three-quarters of mobility experiences among UK-domiciled students took place in just eight countries and two-thirds in just five countries between 2010-11 and 2012-13.
The most popular destinations were France (25%), Spain (17%), the United States (21%), Germany (9%) and Italy (4%).
It concluded that international experience should be available to all students, not only those who make up the largest proportion of mobile students – namely language, socioeconomically advantaged and white students.
“Increasing outward student mobility from the UK benefits the individual, institutions and the economy, but depends on growth in under-represented student participation by subject and identity,” the report said.
The HE International Unit is part of Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ body, and represents all the UK’s higher education bodies internationally. It launched a UK Strategy for Outward mobility in December 2013 in response to the comparatively low numbers of UK students spending time overseas as part of their education.
The UK government has committed to contributing to a European Union target of one in five students in the European Higher Education Area having been mobile by 2020.
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters