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Promotion of outward mobility in the spotlight in the UK, at last…

The United Kingdom has become over the years rather notorious within the international higher education community for its extremely low outbound student mobility rates, a situation in stark contrast with the impressive shares of incoming students of the country’s total student population. The imbalance between inflows and outflows is currently in the order of hundreds of thousands, according to recent figures published by the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), i.e. approximately 370 000 foreign degree-seeking students in the UK compared to only 33 000 UK students going abroad for the same purpose. For the first time, however, the political decision-makers within the country seem to be interested in increasing student outflows, especially for credit (exchange-type) mobility, following the recommendations of a new report recently submitted to David Willets, the Minister of State for Universities and Science.

The report was prepared by a Joint Steering Group on Outward Student Mobility under the guidance of Colin Riordan, chair of the UK Higher Education International Unit, with the participation of the main stakeholder groups, and was, in a nutshell, received with great interest. The research, commissioned by the same UK minister, was to explore the future of the ERASMUS “fee waiver” for UK students going abroad, as well as the issue of obstacles and incentives to mobility. Addressing these main objectives, the commissioned piece puts forward recommendations in eight key areas, most noteworthy being strategy, funding and data collection.

The report recommends that the country develops a national strategy for outward credit mobility and creates a national-level body to support that. Likewise, the contributors recommend the continuation of the ERASMUS “fee waiver” scheme, and further, its expansion to non-ERASMUS mobility as well. Currently, outgoing ERASMUS students do not have to pay tuition fees at their home institution while abroad, while the institutions receive 50% of the tuition fees the students would have paid as compensation from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). According to the new proposal, however, as of 2014/15, the financial burden will be partly put on outgoing students (ERASMUS only) who could be charged up to 15% of the maximum tuition fee cap (GBP 9 000) by their home institution, while the institutions will continue to receive a smaller (25% of the applicable fee) contribution in relative terms from HEFCE. Additionally, the report stresses the importance of improving the data collection on outgoing student mobility, in parallel with recent HESA efforts in the same area.

It will be interesting to see whether the practice will be able to match the rhetoric, in the era of severe budget cuts and austerity measures in the UK.

Recommendations to support UK Outward Student Mobility (Report) HESA