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New Report on Study Abroad and Student Mobility: Stories of Global Citizenship?

GuestBlogger20 September 2019

By Nicole Blum
Development Education Research Centre, UCL Institute of Education

In 2017 we received funding from the Global Engagement Office to identify some of the reasons young people decide to study abroad and what they think they gain from the experience. The research, conducted by myself with support from Douglas Bourn, set out to understand whether the learning students have gained resonates with UCL’s global citizenship and student mobility strategies.

The term ‘global citizenship’ has been around for a while, but is often used in different ways. Key authors in the field suggest that it can have a number of dimensions, including a focus on increasing global employability and competitiveness, cultivating greater understanding and appreciation of difference, or critical engagement and radical transformation of inequitable global structures and relationships.

UCL’s definition includes elements of all of these dimensions, and describes global citizens as individuals who: understand the complexity of our interconnected world, understand our biggest challenges, know their social, ethical and political responsibilities, display leadership and teamwork, and solve problems through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our work was motivated by the common assumption that international experiences for students – including study abroad, overseas volunteering and work placements, and international travel – will result in positive learning about diverse cultures and global concerns.

While there is plenty of research which strongly supports this idea, it has tended to be based on quantitative data from questionnaires completed at the end of an experience. Relatively little research has looked in-depth at student’s own perceptions about their learning while abroad or when they return home.

We interviewed undergraduate students on UCL’s Arts and Sciences (BASc) programme to gain a better understanding of their perceptions.

The data highlighted a range of push and pull factors which influence young people’s study abroad decisions, as well as a wide range of ways in which the experience encourages (or does not) reflection on global issues and on students’ sense of themselves in the world.

Students highlighted the personal aspects of being a ‘global citizen’ when talking about their study abroad experiences:

Studying abroad was the first time I felt like I could call myself a global citizen. Before this, I had some awareness and interest in international issues, but had never left Europe and only travelled for brief periods of time. On returning, I found I had a reverse culture shock, and could relate better to international students studying in the UK.

The evidence also suggested that a number of different kinds of learning take place during study abroad, including about particular topics/ issues, experiences of particular places and/ or exposure to new ideas:

I really do think my sense of history has changed and sense of international politics has changed, and also a sense of what an English person is had changed.

Learning about colonialism and racism in the Netherlands taught me to reflect more on my own country’s issues and ugly history. Thus, making me think more globally about the lives of individuals who have suffered as a result of colonialism.

While these experiences can be highly significant for individuals, it is important to recognise that transformative learning may not happen without support. Students in this research clearly recognised the value of their study abroad learning and experiences, but also the need for more ways to reflect on this with programme organisers and with peers, particularly if they are to be able to take their learning forward.

UCL clearly sets out the potential outcomes of study abroad, with a strong emphasis on the benefits to participants’ enhanced employability, new experiences and skill development. The students we interviewed tended to agree with these benefits, although they often emphasised one aspect as most relevant to their own experience:

I’m actually probably more open now to going and working in other countries or studying in other countries, and it doesn’t feel impossible, it doesn’t feel like this huge ordeal, like this huge challenge, because ‘Oh I’ve done it now’.

I really thought I was just going to learn French, but actually I got a lot out of it academically. I took quite a lot of … studies in creative art, so video games and the cinema and comic books…. there’s a huge games industry out there but also the arts are quite strong in Montreal. And it sort of convinced me that that was a legitimate career choice. I think before then I’d sort of seen that as … you know creative industries is kind of a pipe dream, or it’s something you do if you get lucky. But actually, out there [in Canada] there are people writing scripts for video games or films or … and the fact that I could study it as an academic discipline made me realise that this is a legit thing … it’s not just this fanciful dream. So actually, I’m now hoping to go into radio.

While this study reveals some of the reasons behind the decision to study abroad, more research is needed to explore more deeply how students themselves understand their experiences of study abroad and the ways in which their learning informs their lives in the future. This is perhaps particularly important in the context of increasingly diverse student groups as well as a rapidly changing world.

For more details about the study, access the full report here: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/10078730/

Spotlight on student mobility at UCL

Sian EGardiner23 July 2018

With Brexit negotiations ongoing, the future of Erasmus, the European Union’s student exchange programme, remains unclear in the UK – making the future of student mobility uncertain.

But as London’s Global University, UCL is committed to providing its students with a truly global experience. And while studying in the heart of London goes some way to providing this, every UCL undergraduate has the opportunity to gain international study experience, regardless of their degree programme.

UCL’s dedicated Study Abroad team exists to support and promote these opportunities for UCL students. Thanks to its work, today UCL has exchange agreements with over 250 institutions in 40 countries across five continents, including 48 of the world’s top 100 universities. But how many students travel abroad each year, and where are they heading?

Increase in outward mobility in 2017/18

Data shows that over the past year, UCL has significantly increased the number of international exchange opportunities it offers to students. In fact, the number of outwardly mobile undergraduates has increased by an estimated 35% since 2015/16.

In 2016/17, 1,164 undergraduate students (around 26% of the graduating cohort) experienced one week or more abroad, while 23.8% experienced four or more. As of July 2018, at least 1,292 students will take part in such programmes during 2017/18, with this figure expected to rise.

Student mobility graph UCL Top destinations

Taking a closer look at the data shows that the majority of UCL students are travelling to North America for exchange placements – 59% of the total, as demonstrated by the pie chart below.Pie chart of most popular exchange placement regions

Top destinations for these students are the University of California, the University of Toronto (U of T) and the University of British Colombia.

At 20% of the total, the second most popular region for UCL students taking up placements abroad is South East Asia and Australasia. Top choice institutions in this region are the University of Melbourne, followed by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the University of Western Australia.

The next most popular regions for UCL students are East Asia, followed by Europe and Latin America. As the graph below demonstrates, these placements are at institutions in cities from Moscow to Hong Kong.

Short-term opportunities

For students who wish to study abroad but don’t have the opportunity to take part in an exchange programme as part of their course, there are also a number of short-term opportunities coordinated by UCL Study Abroad.

This August, for example, 46 UCL students are set to travel to Shanghai and Hangzhou as part of the Study China programme.

Inbound students

It’s also worth noting that each year, UCL in turn welcomes students for exchange placements from all over the world.

Echoing the pattern of UCL students travelling for placements abroad, the highest number of students coming to study at UCL in turn are from North America (59% of the total). These students hail from institutions including the University of California, U of T, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington.

Beyond North America, UCL’s next biggest intake of students is from the National University of Singapore. Also in the top ten are the University of Hong Kong, the University of Melbourne and McGill University in Montreal.

Life-changing opportunities 

Owain Evans is UCL’s Short Mobilities Co-ordinator. He said: “It is important for students to enhance their future employability in the ever-changing and increasingly competitive post-graduation environment. Research shows that students with international experiences achieve better degrees and secure better jobs, so we encourage as many students as possible to seek out these opportunities while studying at UCL.

“In addition to the positive effect on employability, there are a range of benefits available to students who spend time abroad, from improvements in language, communication, cultural awareness to the opportunity to build international networks. Put simply, international opportunities have the ability to change the lives of students who undertake them.

“The UCL Study Abroad team aims to inspire and support students who undertake international opportunities, and the increasing number of options we offer reflects the diversity and range of interests among the UCL student cohort.”

Small world, big experiences: exploring student mobility at UCL

JasonLewis19 October 2017

This week, the Study Abroad team is running its annual Study Abroad Fair, celebrating the breadth and variety of UCL’s outward mobility opportunities and encouraging students to take full advantage.

UCL has exchange agreements with over 250 institutions in 40 countries across five continents, including 48 of the world’s top 100 universities.

Data compiled by GEO’s Strategic Data Manager, Alejandro Moreno, indicates that in 2016, UCL students participated in outward mobility experiences in destinations ranging from Los Angeles, California to Avarua, New Zealand.

The map below highlights the cities where these experiences took place:

Cities where UCL students have participated in an outward mobility experience

UCL Study Abroad also provides students with different exchange and mobility options. This pie chart shows the percentage breakdown of student mobility in 2016 across the various types of mobility available.

 percentage breakdown of student mobility in 2016 across the various types of mobility available

UCL students who have participated in an outward mobility opportunity – whether spending a year at a prestigious American university or a couple of months excavating historic sites in Israel – have recommended it as an extremely worthwhile experience.

Here are a few student testimonials.

Alexandra Willems, Law

“There is something very heartening about travelling halfway across the world and still finding people to complain about Eduroam with, in whatever language that may be.”

Alexandra Willems in ShanghaiAlexandra Willems was one of six UCL students to join the summer Study China Programme 2017 – an immersive three-week Mandarin Chinese programme.

Reflecting on her experience, Alex said: “The main aspect of the trip that has stayed with me was the high level of organisation. There was a clear system of support, as well as a timetable and a placement test for the Mandarin Chinese Advanced Level speakers.”

students and monks during temple visitShe added: “The programme included an afternoon of seeing the main sites in Shanghai, including the Bund, People’s Square and the Shanghai Museum, but much of our free time allowed us to explore our own personal interests in the city. My favourite place that I visited this time was the little-known underground Propaganda Art Museum, legally allowed but only in a restricted location”

“In all, the Study China Programme is an amazing opportunity that is organised to a very high standard. Many thanks to all those involved in making it the insightful and educational experience that it was, and I am only saddened that I cannot do it again. Someone else will have to live that experience for me in future programmes, and what a lucky one they will be.”

Eshitha Vaz, Population Health

“The course has shifted and tilted my perspectives as to what it means to be a student.”

Eshitha surfingEshitha Vaz was awarded one of the Study Abroad tuition fee free places at the University of Sydney.

At the University of Sydney, she got the chance to study Aboriginal Culture and History. Speaking on the impact of the course Eshitha said: “I feel I have become more culturally literate in the process and more aware of socio-political currents which have enhanced my career aspirations in turn.”

On her time in Australia, Eshitha added: “Certainly, the personal highlights of the time I spent in Australia were the friends I made and the places I got to visit. As recommended by our programme, I participated in a three-day ‘Surf Camp’ at Seven-Mile Beach in New South Wales where I learned how to surf. It was here that I formed my best friends throughout the trip, some of whom were studying at different Universities and schools in Sydney.”

“The landscape and natural beauty of Australia is undeniably powerful which is why I was so grateful that our timetable facilitated exploration. Two of my closest friends and I took a flight to Cairns, Queensland on a weekend and managed to go scuba diving and snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef: one of the seven ‘Natural Wonders’ of the world and the world’s largest coral reef – an experience of a lifetime.”

Moiz Paracha, Chemical Engineering

“From Penguin Colonies to roaming through the Hout Bay, there is so much to do.”

moiz paracha in cape townMoiz Paracha was part of the first UCL outward mobility experience to the University of Cape Town, where he joined the Sustainable Water Management in Africa course.

On his time in South Africa, Moiz said: “This was honestly an amazing experience, not just on an educational level but also on a personal one. The willingness and desire they have to genuinely make a change to the country is really what caught my attention. The experience, in general, is very eye-opening. The type of new people you can meet and the calmer pace of life is a great cultural experience.”

Reflecting on the landscape, he added: “The beauty of the country is phenomenal. Overall if you’re even vaguely thinking about applying, go do it because it’s something you won’t regret.”

To find out more about what opportunities are available to you and to read more student testimonials, visit the UCL Study Abroad website and follow them on Twitter @UCLcares.

Data visualisations courtesy of GEO’s Strategic Data Manager, Alejandro Moreno