Student mobility: Key findings
Here is an English translation of the key findings of my review dedicated to student mobility, originally published in February 2010 :
Below, the executive summary:
20% of students graduating in the European Higher Education Area with a study or training period abroad by 2020 ? The challenge presented recently by the Bologna ministers is a sizeable one, when one bears in mind that less than 3% of students in Europe currently benefit from a mobility experience.
This objective, however ambitious it may be, signals the changes in perspective and scale that student mobility has been undergoing for around twenty years: an unprecedented growth in numbers, proportional to that of the total student population, new strategies from the States who perceive it as a lever for economic development, and from educational institutions who regard it as a competitive advantage for the cultural and scientific impact they have.
The whole of higher education is becoming internationalised, with qualifications, programmes of study and institutions becoming “mobile”, while student mobility, far from being limited to programmes such as Erasmus, is intensifying and diversifying. It is nevertheless difficult to get an accurate idea of what this means: in spite of significant developments over the last decade, the international statistical data collection programmes (Unesco, OECD, Eurostat database, World Education Indicator, etc.), are noticeably biased: short periods of mobility not counted, no distinction made between supervised and spontaneous mobility, foreign students counted as mobile students, etc. On a worldwide scale, a large amount of polarisation of student migration is to be observed in terms of both outgoing and incoming flows (cf. box).
Within this setting, Europe occupies a singular position on two counts: it is the most advanced arena in terms of the construction of a higher education arena, based on the lines of action of the Bologna Process and on the initiatives of the UE-27; it is also the only region to be a destination of choice for both European nationals (4 students out of 5) and for students from other regions of the world (1 student out of 2). In spite of this mobilisation, the progress made by the countries that signed the Bologna agreement is very uneven and cannot erase either national or institutional cultures; the impact on student mobility remains difficult to evaluate, such is the extent to which attention is turned towards the disparities of deployment at the level of the States.
This lack of coherence is particularly noticeable as regards the portability of financial aids for example: the conditions for granting these are sometimes such that it is hard to imagine how portability could really stimulate mobility. The credit system ECTS (European Credit Transfer and accumulation System) is also defective, based as it is on heterogeneous contents and just as diverse practices: more than one third of Erasmus students do not benefit from full recognition from their study period, because of inadequate negotiation between the parties or reserves on the part of the home institution. In parallel, institutions develop alliance strategies so as to contract only with those which resemble them, thereby reproducing the order of inequalities of prestige and weakening individual student initiatives.
Their motivations are at all events largely influenced by their socio-economic and geographical origins, and their linguistic and cultural environment. Coming from a fairly privileged social environment, Erasmus students have a strong liking for languages and as travellers are by no means beginners. In spite of an overall positive experience, many express regret at not meeting local students, at the fact that socialising tends to concentrate on the peer group (other foreign students) and at the excessive use of English as a working language in non-English-speaking countries. Is there therefore any need to be accompanied in order to learn how to become a foreigner?
While recognition of the study period is problematic, the experience of mobility hardly increases employability but guides it. Analyses do not make it possible to conclude that there is an impact on the level of salary, nor on the level of seniority in the employment obtained; young graduates who have benefited from mobility have access to jobs which call more on international competencies. Generally, student mobility seems to go hand in hand with later mobility, professional or otherwise, international or otherwise.