Broadening horizons through international programmes

By Professor Christina Slade, Vice-Chancellor at Bath Spa University

Access to higher education should be afforded to anyone who wishes to pursue it, so I find it disheartening to note the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showing a decline in the number of students from poorer backgrounds enrolling at some of the UKs top institutions.

It appears that opportunities for upward social mobility haven’t improved much since the 1970s. In fact, the ability to move up the social ladder relative to your parents has, in some ways, declined. 

In the developed world the UK has among the lowest upward social mobility figures according to the OECD. With such grim prospects, how can individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their prospects in the world? University education has long been recognised as a vehicle for upward social mobility, with various strategies designed for access and success for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Widening Participation policy adopted by all universities seeks to widen access to higher education by increasing the number of students from under-represented groups including those from lower income families. However, securing a place at university is only the first step. It is the experience a student gains during their journey through higher education that will truly improve their future prospects. 

Recent evidence shows that university students who take part in international experiences, such as study and work placements abroad see a direct and positive impact on their career. A report launched by the UK Higher Education International Unit revealed that graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds who took part in international programmes earned more in 11 out of 17 subject areas. Graduates who engaged in international mobility activity were also significantly less likely to be unemployed than those who did not (5% compared to 7.6%). They were even less likely to be unemployed than graduates from all backgrounds who were mobile, than those who were not (5.4% compared to 6.7%).

In the developed world the UK has among the lowest upward social mobility figures according to the OECD. With such grim prospects, how can individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their prospects in the world?

At Bath Spa University we offer a Certificate in Global Citizenship programme designed to recognise the global perspective of undergraduate studies and to open opportunities for all students in the global employment market. The award is taken by students alongside their main degree programme for three years. To receive the award students work as a group to develop thinking and skills around global citizenship. They also attend a series of Global Citizenship events including lectures and seminars given by internationally renowned speakers, and undertake an international placement. Students are also eligible for a Global Citizenship Scholarship of £1,000 to help fund the international placement. 

Recent figures indicate that over 70% of home students enrolled on this programme have at least one Widening Participation marker, with over 30% coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and 46% from non-professional backgrounds. These figures demonstrate the interest in international elements to a degree programme and how it can increase Widening Participation in higher education – something probably unheard of not so long ago.   

The benefit of a global education is something I am very passionate about. At Bath Spa we strive to provide a rich and varied experience that allows our students to become socially engaged, confident global citizens who students who as graduates will work in a world where economy and commerce, as well as art and culture, are truly global. 

By providing opportunities for students to engage in international mobility programmes like the Global Citizenship programme, it is hoped that we can provide real opportunities for upward social mobility for our most disadvantaged students and indeed for all of our students. Equal opportunity demands that we break the relentless social stratification of our society. Disadvantaged background should not be destiny.

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