A new study out of the UK offers hope for students that just can’t shake the travel bug: moving around the planet may actually be better for their job prospects.

A report by the UK Higher Education International Unit found that undergraduate students who are globally mobile have a lower unemployment and also earn more over the long term than their less-mobile peers.

The study compared the outcomes of mobile students (those that studied abroad or had other international experience as a part of their undergraduate course of study) from the 2012-2013 graduating class against those who did not travel out of the UK as undergraduates. It found multiple advantages for the first group just six months after graduation, including:

  • Lower unemployment (5.4% of mobile students compared to 6.7% for non-mobile)
  • A higher percentage of those graduates who were employed found work abroad (11% percent of those with full-time employment, compared to just 2% for non-mobile students)
  • On average, graduates who were mobile earned more in 11 out of 17 subject areas
  • Mobile students who stayed in the UK to work were also earning more than their stationary counterparts
  • Mobile graduates were earning more in 40 out of 67 subjects analyzed, with the highest salary disparities (at least £3,000) in the areas of Sociology, Computer Science, Theology and Religious Studies, Electronic and Electrical Engineering and Physical Geographical Sciences.

The report also found positive results for students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields, who have historically been underrepresented in study abroad and other international programs, often due to the demanding nature of their programs of study. However, the study found strong evidence that international experience could help STEM graduates distinguish themselves within their fields.

For STEM students as a whole, 88% of full-time roles attained by mobile students were in top jobs (‘managers and senior officials’, ‘professional roles’ and ‘associate professional and technical occupations’), compared with 82% of roles for non-mobile students. In Computer Science, 100% of full-time roles for mobile graduates were in these top positions, compared with 86% of non-mobile; in Engineering Technology, mobile students attained 94% top positions, compared with 88% for non-mobile graduates.

Anne-Marie Graham, Head of Programme, Outward Student Mobility at IU, told The PIE News that the report chose to highlight STEM fields in particular in order to provide “as much evidence as possible” showing positive outcomes of study and work abroad for STEM students.

“STEM students are relatively underrepresented in terms of mobility and that is a big part of our strategy – we want to increase mobility among underrepresented groups,” she said.

These results are positive news for supporters of international education within the UK and the European Union. The UK government has committed to contribute to a European Union target that 20% of students in the European Higher Education Area will have been mobile by 2020, and the study’s findings will likely help support a greater push for international experience for UK undergraduates.

In a press release from the UK Higher Education International Unit, the entity’s director, Vivienne Stern, said,

“We want to increase the proportion of UK students who have an international experience whilst at university.  If we want to encourage students to think about spending some time abroad, we need to be able to show them what they will get out of it…. This analysis is the first step in testing the hypothesis that mobility has a positive impact on the academic and employment outcomes of undergraduate students”. 

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