A very welcome new UK government initiative has just been launched to encourage more British students to study abroad. We’ll be looking at the implications in more detail later, but here is the news release about it:

UK students will be encouraged to broaden their horizons by travelling overseas for part of their  higher education, thanks to a new Government-backed initiative launched today.

The new UK Outward Student Mobility Strategy aims to boost the number of students gaining vital international experience from overseas study  and work placements, allowing them to complete in the global race for jobs and skills.

Currently just one UK student studies abroad for every  15 international students in the UK – and the UK lags behind Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Poland in accessing the European Commission’s Erasmus funding for study or work placements.

The strategy, developed by the UK Higher Education International Unit, comes on the same day as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which is providing initial funding for the strategy, publishes its International Education Strategy.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “Studying abroad offers students the chance to experience new cultures, understand different ways of working, and develop crucial language skills.

“Too few UK students currently go overseas, which is why we are investing in this programme. To compete in the global race the UK must create graduates with a global outlook that makes them more attractive to potential employers and benefits the wider economy.”

Financial, linguistic and non-recognition of qualifications are some of the barriers which deter students in this country from gaining valuable international experience, with worrying implications for the cultural understanding and long-term employability of our graduates.

A recent report published by the CBI shows 47% of employers are dissatisfied with graduates’ international cultural awareness, and 55% with foreign language skills, reinforcing the importance of a coordinated programme to promote outward student mobility.

In delivering the strategy, the supporting programme will work with universities, higher education institutions and the British Council, as well as other agencies and partners, to increase the number of international opportunities for UK students.

The programme will promote the benefits of outward mobility to students, academics, parents and other influencers. Additionally it will offer a range of services to help the higher education sector increase the number of UK students taking up and accessing international opportunities including developing  online resources  which will bring together all the relevant information on studying abroad and details about financial assistance available to both institutions and students.

HEFCE Chief Executive, Sir Alan Langlands, said: “Promoting an international experience is a key factor in preparing graduates for a highly competitive, international marketplace. HEFCE is pleased to support the strategy and looks forward to innovative approaches to outward mobility being developed and implemented over the next three years. We hope that focusing this effort in a UK wide unit will ensure that students from the full range of universities and colleges will benefit from this initiative.”

Dr Joanna Newman, Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit said: “Encouraging a more strategic and joined up approach across the UK to study abroad  will result in more of our students and staff experiencing the transformative effect of living and learning in another country. This experience changes their own perspectives and enhances job prospects, but also enriches institutions, employers and the broader society by equipping students with increased understanding and experience of studying and working in a global environment.”

Main photo: Imperil College London

Notes to Editor

1.      At the request of the Universities Minister last year, BIS and the UK HE International Unit established a Joint Steering Group on Outward Student Mobility led by Professor Colin Riordan, Vice Chancellor of Cardiff University and Chair of the International Unit, in order to review the obstacles and incentives to outward student mobility in the UK.  The central recommendation of the Group was that the UK should develop and implement a national strategy for outward student mobility, supported by a body to facilitate and promote best practice, effectiveness and professionalism in this area. The Minister then asked Professor Colin Riordan to take forward development of an HE sector lead approach to the strategy, which could reflect the priorities of HE institutions and work with related student mobility policies of England and the Devolved Administrations.

2.      An advisory board has been created from experts within the HE sector to advise on the development of the programme in support of the strategy over the next three years, to be reviewed in 2016.

3.      Professor Colin Riordan, Chair of the UK He International Unit led the working group to take forward the recommendations of the mobility report, which was published on 3 May 2012.

4.      The UK Higher Education International Unit (IU) is a central observatory and intelligence unit on HE

* Internationalisation and European policy developments for higher education institutions. The IU was formed on 1 August 2010 by merging the UK HE International Unit and the UK HE Europe Unit. www.international.ac.uk