Outward mobility: it takes a village

Katherine Allinson explains the benefits of sending students abroad to study, work or volunteer during their UK degree

Many hands make light work. There’s no ‘I’ in team. It takes a village.

These phrases are emblazoned on motivational posters in staff rooms across the country. Teamwork is the mantra of organisations striving for success and it is engrained in the way we think and talk about work. But in a world of individual responsibilities, KPIs and performance reviews, working on cross-organisational projects can be tough. Nonetheless, many activities in universities achieve greater success when we work collectively. Outward mobility is such an activity.

Outward mobility is a term for sending students abroad to study, work or volunteer during their UK degree. Universities UK International (UUKi) holds the national strategy and target to double the percentage of students going abroad by 2020 and runs the Go International: Stand Out campaign to deliver this.

The best mobility programmes require effective internal and external collaboration

Research shows that students who are mobile get better degrees and better jobs, and that the experience leads to personal development. Yet the UK lags behind others in the number of students we send overseas. Currently, seven per cent of UK students are reported as going abroad, Compared with Germany, for example, which is closer to 30%, we have some serious catching up to do.

Colleagues are often surprised by the low numbers of students participating in programmes: going abroad is such an exciting opportunity, surely there are queues of students wanting to take part? In reality, organising mobility programmes is a lot of work for both staff and students. The traditional model of a full year abroad does not suit all students, and universities have had to evolve and update their offer with more attractive opportunities. These include work placements, short-term trips, and summer programmes.

To deliver innovative programmes which meet the changing needs of students, it is increasingly necessary for institutions to collaborate across departments and with external colleagues (it’s so important, in fact, that collaboration will be the theme of UUKi’s upcoming Go International conference on 26 June).

There are already great examples of university mobility teams collaborating with internal colleagues and external stakeholders. The University of Westminster mobility team worked with their alumni team to create the Westminster Working Cultures programme, which provides international placements with alumni. The National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) at Aston University delivers pre-sessional mobility programmes for students from less-advantaged groups. The University of Bristol works with CRCC Asia to deliver an eight-week summer programme for their widening participation cohort. Glasgow Caledonian University works with academics on international collaborations which support short-term student mobility.

The mobility journey reflects the student journey: marketing opportunities and recruiting students, providing wellbeing support and delivering post-mobility programmes to help students with their next steps. It follows that the best mobility programmes require effective internal and external collaboration. From marketing and outreach, to student support, to risk, insurance and finance, all departments have a role to play to help students have the best experience possible while abroad.

Across the UK, programmes delivered with colleagues and external stakeholders have seen increases in the number of students going abroad. Last year, universities sent 18,500 UK students on mobility programmes – more than ever before. Let’s continue to collaborate to offer more students the chance to take part in these once in a lifetime opportunities. After all, it takes a village – or a university.

Katherine Allinson, Outward Mobility Policy Researcher, UUKi


UUKi’s Go International Stand Out campaign will host its annual conference on 26 June in London. It will include sessions on the examples above as well discussions on short-term funding, internationalisation at home, academic collaboration, university collaborations and more. Register now.

For more information on the Go International: Stand Out campaign, visit: universitiesuk.ac.uk/standout

For more information on, and tickets for, the Go International Conference, visit: universitiesuk.ac.uk/events/Pages/Go-International-Conference