Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor to widen the demographic of students taking up international study abroad or internship opportunities
In the University of Limerick today Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched a report “Enhancing Mobility for Access Students Ireland [EMASI]” and online resource mobilitytookit.ie for higher education institutions in Ireland to widen student participation in international mobility opportunities, such as Erasmus +, for non-traditional students such as mature students, student with disabilities or from lower socio-economic groups.
The report, which was produced by the Irish Universities Association, found that students who undertake mobility programmes significantly benefit from them, as they develop attractive graduate attributes such as linguistic skills, intercultural competencies and global citizenship. The skills developed are particularly beneficial to students from under-represented groups and their development leads to enhanced career opportunities, as well as significant personal development.
However, many barriers to mobility exist and less than one in five higher education students in Ireland currently study abroad. Financial concerns, separation from family, health issues, academic concerns and accommodation issues are among some of the challenges highlighted in the Report.
The Report calls for national targets to be introduced by the Irish Government for the mobility of non-traditional students together with reform in the areas of national data capture, funding, information, awareness and promotion. Ireland’s national strategy on International Education (2016-2020) 2 aspires to increase student mobility to above the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) target of 20% by 2020.
Commenting on the report the Minister stressed the importance of equity of access for all students who wish to participate in available international opportunities in study or internships abroad: “The report findings show that, at system level, we need to address these challenges together. Working with our students, and with enhanced co-operation at the level of academic schools and departments and across the higher education system, we will enable as many students as possible to take up these important opportunities. The skills developed and personal growth of the student through study or internship abroad will also benefit Irish society and our country as a whole.”
The report highlights that successful reform will lead to increased demand for international opportunities, therefore national agencies and institutions must be adequately resourced to service such demand.
The institutional analysis in the Report uncovered highly effective study and internship abroad best practice at both the University of Limerick and the Limerick Institute of Technology. Best practice included a whole of institution approach to mobility, supporting mobility champions, effective support structures and impactful promotion and awareness campaigns.
Critically students are also encouraged to take ownership and play an active role in the organisation of their mobility opportunity.
Jessica Gough, a former UL applied languages student has had many successful mobility experiences: “You need to have a positive attitude and know your own needs. I actively researched each placement, finding out who to contact in each country before I travelled and this helped me overcome the challenges of my disability”.
Institutional analysis also provided invaluable data for the recommendation section of the Report as well as excellent material for the mobility toolkit.
Sinéad Lucey, Head of International Education at the Irish Universities Association stated, “The online toolkit in particular is designed to help institutions overcome the challenges that exist for students to participate in mobility opportunities by providing useful resources such as guides, best practice examples and student/staff testimonials covering key areas in the mobility process.”
The toolkit will be a key resource to staff in higher education institutions as they ramp up efforts to promote mobility to all their students.
Gerard Gallagher is Disability Advisor at Maynooth University. As a student with a disability, Gerard didn’t think an Erasmus experience was an option for him but he’s now very passionate about ensuring the students he supports embrace this opportunity: “I believe that life experience and skills gained on Erasmus+ are transferable for success in education and employment and in the last number of years I’ve supported students with significant disabilities to study abroad in countries including, Germany, Austria and Tanzania.”
The EMASI project was delivered by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), working under the auspices of the Department of Education and Skills (DES), with the support of the HEA, and was funded by the European Commission under Key Action 3: Support for Policy Reform.