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New government-backed strategy aims to send more UK students abroad

A raft of measures to encourage more UK students to study or take work placements abroad has been launched with government backing.

The UK Strategy for Outward Mobility will bring together universities, business, the voluntary sector and organisations such as the British Council to seek out new opportunities for students to travel overseas.

It will explore different funding sources and ways to provide more flexible  opportunities for students to weave an international experience into their undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

The initiative, originally announced in July as part of a broader education export strategy, will receive government funding until 2016 and is being led by the UK Higher Education International Unit (IU). It builds on the recommendations of the 2012 Riordan Review, led by Professor Colin Riordan, the IU’s chairman and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cardiff.

Currently just six percent of UK students travel abroad for work or study, far short of the European Higher Education’s mobility target of 20 per cent of graduating students by 2020. For every 15 HE students coming into the UK, it sends only one abroad.

David Willetts, the Universities and Science Minister, explained why the government wanted more UK students to study abroad. He said: “To compete in the global race we need our graduates to understand other countries. This will make them more attractive to potential employers and benefits the wider economy.”

As part of its strategy the IU is asking universities to share expertise and success stories of students and graduates who have benefited through an international experience. It will be promoting outward mobility in schools and through UCAS and seeking to identify and secure additional sources of funding, such as sponsorship and bursaries.

A new forum – the Mobility Community of Practice – will provide a place for higher education to discuss developments, share expertise and support the strategy. In addition, the IU is to create a comprehensive online information hub, signposting information and resources.

A peer support network will help create opportunities for staff to travel overseas for continued professional development.

Evidence shows that students who have taken part in study, work or volunteering abroad as part of their degrees are more likely to be in employment or further study six months after graduation and they also have higher average salaries, says the IU.

Dr Joanna Newman, the IU’s Director, says an international experience not only makes students more employable, it makes them global citizens, more capable of building bridges in the future.

“International higher education is not simply about bringing international students to the UK. It’s about forming long term partnerships with other countries and seeing a transfer of skills and experience,” she said.