NIC MITCHELL previews another step on the road to getting more British students to study abroad for at least part of their higher education.

Many of Britain’s study abroad advocates are expected to gather in London’s Caledonian Club on Tuesday March 11 for a seminar – with the lengthy title of “Implementing the Outward Student Mobility Strategy and engaging with the reformed Erasmus programme.

The last get-together like this I attended was The Observatory of Borderless Higher Education, or OBHE, conference on The international higher education revolution: impacts on mobility, qualifications, networks, held at Regent’s University in December.

I was there to report on MOOCS and more for University World News; but still echoing in my ears was the polite, but stinging, rebuke from Dr Dirk Van Damme, head of the OECD’s Paris-based Innovation and Measuring Progress Division about the UK’s imbalance regarding inward and outward student mobility.

Together with UNESCO, the OECD monitors international flows of study abroad students and Dr Van Damme used a ‘final thoughts’ session to talk about destination countries.


He said: “I think continental Europe is a very promising area, Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands..they are increasing their market share. The UK is doing rather well. The US is, year after year, losing market share.

“From global to regional flows..we see an increase in inter-Asia flows; inter Latin America flows.”

He then turned specifically to the UK, and referring to data used by the Times Higher Education in its rankings, he spoke positively about “the well thought through international forces of its universities”.


But he warned: “This is compensated by some very negative trends. Mobility is certainly one of them. I don’t see how with such a cost the UK can keep its market share in a competing arena. So, cost and affordability will become, and are becoming major issues – linked to that is value for money.”

Many international students are unsatisfied by the experience of UK universities, he said. “The degree of satisfaction as a consumer, as a student, coming to the UK is too low. And there many critical elements there that need to be addressed.”


He then made what I thought was his most critical observation, saying: “I think it is an illusion to assume that incoming mobility without outgoing mobility is sustainable. The world is moving into a view on reciprocity.”

“It is no longer the view that everything should be concentrated at one place and that everyone should go to one place”, said Dr Van Damme.

“The idea is about exchange and about reciprocity of flows,” he added, arguing that the idea that international students should all head to the UK or the US – and that the UK does not send students abroad – is not sustainable.

“It is about reciprocity, but it is also about respect”.


“And that brings me to languages”, he said. “We have done some work on languages in the globalising educational context, and we came to the conclusion that building languages, not literacies, will become very important; and that the idea that you can only offer English languages courses to the global community is not going to be sustainable.

“Many people have spoken about Latin America. It is unthinkable to offer courses that are not in Spanish in Latin America. So, you have to have a multi-language provision”

And, as for MOOCs and Africa, you might need to offer them in ten or even 20 languages.

Food for thought for the seminar on Tuesday, and all the more more reason to encourage British students to take up the challenge and learn foreign languages – and get out of their comfort zone by studying abroad!

+ Speakers at the Caledonian Club seminar on March 11, organised by the Westminster Higher Education Forum, include Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Sector, Erasmus and HE Erasmus+ from the European Commission; Rok Primožič, chair of the European Students’ Union and Anne Marie Graham, head of the UK Outward Student Mobility Programme.

I will be reporting on events; so watch this space and others I write for!