By Zoe Fripp.
Universities UK International (UUKi) has launched a new campaign to increase the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds undertaking placements abroad.
The campaign entitled ‘Go International: Stand Out’ aims to double the percentage of UK students going abroad by 2020 to reach their ‘national target for outward student mobility’.
According to the campaign brochure, outward student mobility refers to students either studying, working or volunteering abroad as part of their undergraduate degree programme, with only 6.6% of UK undergraduate students taking this opportunity.
Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Education is quoted in the brochure, emphasising the importance of placements abroad and the benefits students can gain from them. He said: “… students who have experience of studying, working and volunteering abroad have better educational and employment outcomes.”
The campaign is placing much of its focus on students from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds, such as those who are BAME, as UUKi research shows that these groups are the least likely to participate in placements abroad, but can benefit the most. This is demonstrated by statistics in the brochure, which show that students from disadvantaged backgrounds who were mobile earn 6.1% more, and black graduates are 41% less likely to be unemployed if they undertake a placement.
Vivienne Stern, the director of UUKi, told The Guardian: “It’s not good enough if the opportunities are only taken up by a small subset of the student population, or that they’re the preserve of a small group of predominantly wealthy students. We’ve got a responsibility to spread the benefits. If we don’t we’re compounding inequality.”
A research project undertaken by Aston University explored the attainment gap between white and BAME students and found that a remedy for this was to encourage international and national work placements.
Professor Helen Higson, Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Aston University, and a member of University UK’s outward mobility board, said the project has led to them introducing targeted placements specifically for BAME students.
She told The Guardian: “The main thing is working with [BAME students] early on in university, in the first year, to persuade them it’s a good idea, and also to persuade their families.”
UUKi has referred to the barriers that stop students from going abroad; the key reasons being isolation, financial worries, and a fear of losing or interrupting friendships and relationships.
Aston University has begun addressing these fears by offering support tailored to specific groups of students and their needs. These include pre-departure preparation meetings with support and advise on settling into a new culture, setting students up with others that have undergone placements so they can hear about experiences and possibly meet students undertaking placements in the same area so they won’t feel isolated.
Rose Matthews, head of global opportunities at Cardiff University, emphasised the importance of making sure that students are aware of the support available based on their situation, such as financial bursaries for disadvantaged students and mental health and wellbeing packages.
“It’s important for students abroad to be informed that they are still our students, that they can still access all our support services, like our counselling services, which have been adapted to their needs through Skype and telephone,” she said to The Guardian.
UUKi’s Go International: Stand Out campaign launched on 2nd November, and since then have had over 50 university partners sign up, and are hoping to attain more. To find out more about the campaign, look at frequently asked questions and answers, and view the brochure, visit their website.