A new white paper on the social and economic benefits of Australia’s learning abroad programmes calls for immediate action to restore pre-pandemic levels of global mobility.
The International Education Association Australia’s publication Learning Abroad in Australian Universities compiles extensive global research confirming learning abroad as one of the most important experiences an undergraduate student can have.
According to the report, “Learning abroad, or global mobility, programs have developed well beyond semester-long reciprocal exchange programs to embrace credit-bearing and extra-curricular short-term experiences; faculty-led and centrally-designed global study tours; global health placements; global studios and research experiences; as well as global internships and work placements”.
“Learning abroad not only fosters globally engaged citizens and leaders but also connects young Australians to global democracy and foreign policy initiatives,” it noted. “Learning abroad also positively impacts students’ experience of, and engagement with, higher education and improves their employability and graduate outcomes.”
Prior to Covid, the report stated that the popularity of learning abroad programmes had grown significantly over the previous decade, which had been greatly aided by policy settings and financial support, as well as the work of third-party providers based outside of institutions.
Kirrilee Hughes, IEAA research manager, told The PIE One of the report’s surprises is that, prior to the Covid pandemic, Australia was the world leader in global mobility programmes, with one in every four (23%) Australian undergraduate students participating in learning abroad, compared to 16% in the US, 11% in Canada, and 7.4% in the US.
“We were outperforming the US, UK and Canada, and we need to because of our geo strategic position. We need to be getting young people out there. Australian degrees don’t have things like the portability of degrees that exist in say Europe, for example, so this is a key opportunity.
“We were doing such a great job and it is vital we regain that momentum.”
Hughes stated that the report will be used as an advocacy tool to drive policy settings as well as institutional and stakeholder support for resuming global mobility programmes.
The report focuses on six key outcomes: Globally Engaged Leaders, Global Citizens, Australia’s Relationships with the World, Student Experience, Employability and Graduate Outcomes, and Student Recruitment Driver.
Every evidence-based outcome is accompanied by a set of practical ‘Calls to Action’ that institutions, learning abroad providers, and stakeholders can use to support and drive global mobility programmes. These include how institutions can gain support for programmes, engage students and stakeholders, reduce barriers to access, leverage alumni and stakeholder support and expertise, and maximise benefits for all parties involved in these programmes.
According to Hughes, 120,000 to 180,000 young Australians will miss out on the opportunity to participate in a learning abroad experience and gain the critical skills and outcomes outlined in the white paper as a result of the pandemic.
She stated that the longer it takes to restore learning abroad programmes to pre-pandemic levels and continue the trend of growth seen in Australia over the previous decade, the greater the impact on individuals, institutions, and Australia’s social, financial, and political economies. She warns that it is critical that decision-makers understand the consequences of any further delays.
“Without this key channel we’re not laying the groundwork for the outcomes in the report to take place – we’re not laying new ground for global leaders, global citizens, and for improved international relations.”
“Global research confirms learning abroad as one of the most important experiences an undergraduate student can participate in. Now that travel restrictions in Australia and across the world have eased, it is essential that we work together to ensure that participation in learning abroad programs by our young people returns to, and exceeds, pre-Covid-19 levels,” Phil Honeywood, IEAA chief executive officer, added.
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