Eurydice student mobility report throws up surprises

There appears much to be learned from the publication last week of Eurydice’s first ever report outlining and scoring European Union member states’ policies to encourage higher education students to spend part of their studies or training abroad.

Apart from covering all 28 European Union member states, the report, Towards a Mobility Scoreboard: Conditions for learning abroad in Europe, also included Lichtenstein, Turkey and Norway.

The document will form a basis for future joint monitoring of student mobility policies and systems at the European Union level, the next update being planned for 2015.

The mandate of the European Union’s Eurydice Unit EACEA – Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency – provides information on education systems and policies in 36 countries by producing studies on issues common to European education systems.

In the report, the researchers focused on five areas: information and guidance; foreign language preparation; portability of public grants and loans; recognition of learning outcomes; and mobility support to students from a low socio-economic background.

Unexpected findings

Unexpected findings included, for instance, that in aspects typically included in the concept of 'strategic planning' – the development of a recent strategy for information and guidance on learner mobility; initiatives launched in the past two years; and the existence of government-based or publicly funded bodies in charge of information and guidance on learning mobility – national situations were surprisingly diverse.

While most of the countries had a recent strategy, specific initiatives were uncommon in Europe. In Luxembourg and Sweden, a public-funded body oversees strategic planning on information and guidance.

When a distinction was made between existing strategies – those that are separate information and guidance strategies, and those linked to a general learner mobility strategy – only Germany and Croatia had a self-contained strategy for learner mobility.

France and Poland were the only two countries that had developed a separate information and guidance strategy.

The Eurydice Council recommended an improvement in the quality of information and guidance on grant availability, national, regional and local mobility opportunities, and the targeting of specific groups of learners, both within and outside the European Union.

Countries should also use creative and interactive ways – through centralised web portals and other web services, for example, and support centres like ‘European offices’ – to disseminate information, and to communicate and exchange with young people and other stakeholders.

Language and the mobility charter

The issue of foreign languages was also unpacked – it is often an important factor in students deciding to study abroad.

Cyprus, Luxembourg and the German-speaking part of Belgium placed the most emphasis on language learning in schools while Ireland and, within the United Kingdom, Scotland, had no compulsory foreign language learning in schools.

Interestingly, when it came to who had or had not officially adopted the European Quality Charter for Mobility, it was found that nearly two-thirds of the countries had not. Only 10 had done so.

Germany had adopted the charter in relation to mobility in vocational education and training.

However, for mobility in higher education, where greater autonomy rests with institutions, the federal government supports the German Academic Exchange Service – DAAD – in its role as the largest global mobility agency providing information and guidance, linguistic training, mentoring and evaluation of experience.

Guidance services

The report said all countries claimed to have personalised guidance services in place for mobile learners – but in most instances, international offices in higher education institutions operated these.

Nine countries claimed that students had access to guidance on both topics – before and after going abroad – and this was almost equal to the number of countries where guidance typically covered neither issue.

In 10 countries, advice was offered to students on how to make the best use of learning mobility to develop knowledge, skills and competences, but not to students wanting to reintegrate after a long period of study abroad.

Only Lithuania is in the opposite situation – advising students who want to reintegrate after a long study period abroad, but not offering advice on optimising learning mobility to develop knowledge, skills and competences.

Eurydice picked out Germany, Belgium, Spain, France and Italy as providing the most comprehensive support when it came to information and guidance structures. The countries where these were least developed were Greece, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Other key findings, and priorities

Other key findings were that the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium as well as Italy, Germany and Austria had well-developed financial support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds wanting to study or train abroad, and systems to monitor mobility in terms of social background.

And on the issue of portability of student aid – enabling students to receive public funding in another country on the same terms as when they studied at home – grants and loans were portable in the Dutch and German-speaking parts of Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden.

Conversely, financial support systems for students were most restrictive in the French-speaking part of Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Romania. And Turkey has no national policy at all on grants.

The report recommended a list of priorities to improve learning mobility, including heavier emphasis on mentoring and peer learning schemes to ensure the integration of mobile learners in host countries or institutions.

Another priority was the implementation of existing quality charters, like the European Quality Charter for Mobility and national and regional-level charters, to ensure the standard of and to promote quality assurance for each aspect of mobility.

Androulla Vassiliou, European commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, said: "Studying and training abroad is an excellent way to gain valuable skills and experience, which is why the EU has greatly increased funding for mobility under the new Erasmus+ programme.

“The Mobility Scoreboard allows us to see for the first time how well countries are creating a positive environment for student mobility to flourish – and where they could do more."