In January 2017, she made the bold decision to embark on an Erasmus+ placement at a university in the Netherlands. And it wasn’t just her own life she was changing. She took her nine-year old daughter with her.
The experience proved to be life-changing: “in terms of my personal development, living abroad was incredibly empowering”. When she returned home “not only did I have stories of my adventure to tell, but I also had a new mind-set that allowed me to try more, do more and fear less.”
At the same time, her daughter “flourished in her Dutch-speaking school and made friends with children from different backgrounds”.
It’s the sort of story that delights Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi). The organisation has launched the Go International: Stand Out campaign to galvanise universities to come together to double the percentage of undergraduate students studying, working or volunteering abroad by 2020: “It’s really a win win. It’s great for students who grow in confidence and cultural understanding. It’s good for universities as students with an expanded, global mindset help internationalise home campuses – and it helps establish and embed international links across university activities.”
Currently just 6.6% of students complete a placement of this kind. This is despite evidence that outward student mobility can improve both academic and employability outcomes. When compared to students who don’t complete a placement, students who go abroad are 9% more likely to gain a 1st or 2:1 degree and 24% less likely to be unemployed. Those in work six months on from graduation are 9% more likely to be in a ‘graduate’ job earning, on average, a 5% wage premium.
These gains are particularly significant for students from disadvantaged backgrounds – but they are the least likely to participate in outward student mobility. Compared with peers who stay in the UK, graduates from more disadvantaged backgrounds who go abroad earn on average 6.1% more. Outwardly mobile black students are 41% less likely to be unemployed after graduation than their non-mobile black peers.
UUKi is asking university leaders to sign up to the campaign and pledge concrete actions which will help grow the number of their undergraduate students going abroad. An impressive 55 institutions had already signed up by the launch date in early November.
It’s really a win win. It’s great for students who grow in confidence and cultural understanding. It’s good for universities as students with an expanded, global mindset help internationalise home campuses – and it helps establish and embed international links across university activities
Campaign champion Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University believes that outward student mobility is integral to universities’ missions: “Increasing outward student mobility is a key feature of Cardiff University’s international strategy. Students improve their employability, institutions develop their international links and businesses value the wider experience of those who’ve spent time abroad.”
The campaign has also gained Governmental support with endorsements from Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation and from the three devolved administrations. Johnson comments: “We know that students who have experience of studying, working and volunteering abroad have better educational and employment outcomes. Employers value the skills that students develop through these placements, including language skills and cultural awareness. I thoroughly support the Go International: Stand Out campaign to get more young people interested in an overseas placement and would encourage universities and employers to get involved.”
But the ultimate campaign advocates are the alumni of study, work and volunteer placement programmes like Simmone: “It’s vital other students know anything is possible and that taking a chance on themselves will pay off…I hope that they too will embrace these incredible opportunities.”