Social inclusion is a priority for the next Erasmus+ programme, but very little hard data is available on the accessibility of the current programme and what measures could be put in place to improve access and participation. We at the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) believe it is important to gather more evidence from across Europe of what works and where we need to focus our efforts in order to create recommendations for universities to increase their outward mobility opportunities for all students.
Students from less advantaged backgrounds and from underrepresented groups that go abroad tend to get better degree results, have lower unemployment rates, are more likely to start their career in graduate-level jobs and have a higher starting salary than their non-mobile peers. However, while they stand to gain from this experience, these students are underrepresented in mobility, with only 7% of Erasmus students coming from a disadvantaged or underrepresented group.
In response to this, ESN has launched the ‘Social Inclusion and Engagement in Mobility’ project. The project is a collaborative cross-European partnership between ESN, UUKi and the European University Foundation, YES Forum, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (BE), University of Vigo (ES), Masaryk University (CZ), University of Latvia (LV) and ESN Spain (ES) and ESN France (FR).
The project has two overarching objectives:
Widening participation of underrepresented groups of the Erasmus+ programme in order to make the programme more inclusive;
Increase the interaction between international students and local communities with fewer opportunities in order to increase integration and intercultural exchange.
The project will start with two research components in Spring 2020, one focussing on quantitative data analysis, and the other on case studies through site visits, and focus groups and interviews with students from underrepresented groups. This will be followed up with recommendations and test phases in the partner universities, after which short term mobility for students from underrepresented groups will be organised to create workshop modules around Mobility, Internationalisation, Intercultural learning and diversity, to bring back to the local communities in order to be better equipped at targeting the message to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This work will be followed by a wider spread implementation round, involving partner universities, local ESN sections and other local youth organisations to work with the project findings and recommendations, to instigate interaction between local youth of underrepresented groups and international students with mobility experiences. In order to measure the impact of these activities, a social impact measurement tool will be developed to draw conclusions and recommendations that can be disseminated across the European higher education and youth sectors.
This project is an important step toward making international mobility opportunities more inclusive, enabling students from all backgrounds to study, work or volunteer abroad. The ultimate goal of higher education in general, and studying abroad in specific, is to shape a generation of Europeans that transcend traditional cultural beliefs, who embrace cultural differences and endorse mutual intercultural understanding to shape a united society that offers space to everyone.