‘Academic mobility’ refers to students and teachers moving to another educational institution. In the European context, it is seen as one of the most crucial factors in strengthening European identity among young people. Erasmus students report having undergone transformative experiences in a foreign cultural context, through both in-class and out-of-classroom learning. However, first-generation students, students with lower socio-economic background and those with disabilities are less likely to participate in mobility programmes. Such students are therefore less likely to acquire the personal and professional skills that could put them in a better position to secure their first job, enhance their career development, and even earn higher salaries.
Furthermore, while participation in Erasmus is widespread among the student population, the programme reaches out less frequently to those enrolled in vocation education and training (VET), school education and adult education. A lack of public information on funding and opportunities for mobility is often quoted as a key obstacle that keeps these populations from participating in international exchanges. The vast differences between national VET systems gives rise to a broad range and structural and administrative challenges, not least those linked to language barriers and the lack of availability of long-term stays.
To increase the participation in international mobility programmes of students with vulnerable backgrounds, countries are putting in place various support mechanisms, including those offering financial assistance through various loans, grants, exemptions from tuition fees, and subsidies. Countries also provide accommodation places reserved for incoming students with vulnerable backgrounds, or put in place special information packages on rental requirements, job opportunities or the amount of income necessary to cover expenses during the mobility experience. To overcome various bureaucratic challenges, countries are also increasingly engaging with organisations that promote VET exchanges, as well as employment agencies, employers, educational institutions and youth centres, which consequently offer consultations to disadvantaged students on the availability of international mobility schemes.
Financial support can be coupled with social support, which may take the form of ‘cultural coaches’, ‘buddy networks’ and orientation weeks to help establish contacts among foreign and local students. These activities are supplemented by language and general culture courses. Social support is also provided via online exchange platforms that enable peers with mobility experience to inform youth who are interested in mobility, and to encourage their participation.
As international mobility is currently the privilege of a few, countries should strive to include broader segments of the student population through increased financial and social support. Support should be geared to address in particular the needs of vulnerable groups in society. Host countries that receive mobile students should target incoming students with vulnerable backgrounds, providing arrangements that facilitate their integration and ensure students’ awareness of facilities to meet their basic needs during their stay.
To increase the participation of people enrolled in school education, VET and adult education, structural and administrative challenges should be further reduced by increasing the availability of information and advice on international mobility. Furthermore, various types of ‘coaching’ should be provided to familiarise students with mobility opportunities, as well as the cultural, social and economic conditions they are likely to encounter in the destination country.