Should you Study Abroad? Yes!

(March 2nd, 2016) Surveying past, present and future Erasmus programme participants, a study found there are big differences between students from the North, the East and the South. But generally, the study experience abroad is a good one.

Since 1987, the Erasmus programme has been the gateway for millions of European students to study abroad. Now, an EU-commissioned study shows that these students gain much more than just a few months in a different country. Based on 56,733 students, 18,618 alumni and 652 employers, the results show that students are not only more likely to find jobs within a year of finishing their studies and reach a managerial position, but also decide to live abroad on a permanent basis and even marry a partner of a different nationality.

The study was led by CHE Consult, a higher education consulting company based in Berlin, Germany. Using a tool called memo©, researchers were able to measure six personality traits, from characteristics at the core of each person, which are difficult to change; to attitudes to everyday life, which can be more easily swayed.

The main advantage of this tool is that it allows measurements before and after the student has initiated their adventures abroad. The idea of measuring before the event is invaluable to understand the student’s motivation, as project leader Uwe Brandenburg explains. “You measure the pre-value - before an intervention happens – and you can compare those people who had the intervention and those who didn't. You can see the predisposition of people and the kind of personality of those who go into an intervention.”

As it turned out, when compared to students that prefer to stay at home, Erasmus students have higher scores on traits such as confidence in own abilities and curiosity, even before going abroad. “These are different personalities from the outset, essentially different from those who make a decision not to go,” says Brandenburg. For the researcher, this means the “idea that you can just open a programme and everybody will use it, is an illusion. You have a certain amount of people who have the predisposition, which makes them likely to want to go abroad and there's a lot who don't”.

Despite the general positive impact for the average student, some were able to benefit more than others. These results seem to be related with the current economic situation, with mobility boosting opportunities, especially for students coming from a difficult labour market.

Not surprisingly then, northern European students were the ones who benefited the least. “One of the possible reasons”, says Brandenburg, “is that many people go abroad during school times and so they have the first exposure much earlier, and then the second exposure has less impact.” In contrast, students from Western and Eastern European countries achieved much more, with lower unemployment rates and more managerial positions than their colleagues, who stayed in their home country.

Southern Europe is probably the most interesting and most dramatic case. In contrast to other regions, in southern Europe there is a much more marked difference between those that go abroad and those that don’t. In this case, “those who don't go have the impression that it doesn't help, widening the social gap in a way,” explains Brandenburg. “The clear message is all about information: people, who don’t want to go abroad, should know how much of an advantage it can be.”

The big question at this stage is how long do students need to stay abroad to reap all these benefits? “It's not necessarily the longer the better,” says Brandenburg. On the one hand, short-term activities can have a positive effect, while, on the other hand, longer stays can have a long-lasting negative impact, if the student is not prepared. “It may be easier to tell somebody to go for two weeks and then hope they go again, rather than commit everybody for a year.”

It’s easy to see the implications these results can have on future programmes to motivate students to go abroad. With that in mind, CHE Consult is already in negotiations with different institutions to continue these studies, possibly even looking at the same students over a prolonged period of time, to determine how long-lasting these changes can be.

Brandenburg is also keen to understand why some students have a less than pleasant experience abroad, which could help design better mobility programmes. Following the company’s motto – output is about the institution; impact is about the individual – the researcher believes, it’s important not to forget that there’s always an individual behind the numbers.

Alex Reis

Photo: paulhs

Last Changes: 03.02.2016