Changing the tide on learning mobility: for all not the few
“Not all classrooms have four walls”
The term learning mobility describes an educational process that is fluid across spatial lines. It is a process wherein learners are afforded the opportunity to engage with a learning period in a new cultural setting and form new relations and modes of understanding. It is also, when operating well, a means by which learners’ qualifications and educational backgrounds are recognised and valid at an equivalent level across and between various geographic locations.
While the benefits of easily accessible learning mobilities are habitually touted by the EU institutions and Member States respectively; it remains the case, however, that large discrepancies exist when it comes to who benefits and who’s excluded.
We only need to look as far as the gross under-representation of lower income groups in Erasmus+ as a marker of this issue. And this signifies a fundamental flaw that can be expressed in blunt terms: only those who can rely on economic help have been able to access the scheme, despite the grants, data shows.
The stark under-representation of lower-income groups in mobility programmes such as Erasmus+ is not for a lack of want on behalf of those excluded. Take into consideration for instance, a recent study which identifies that 75% of learners from lower income groups – who would have liked to engage with Erasmus+ – felt that the additional costs were too significant to apply and that covering the shortfall would involve the acquisition of additional debt. In addition, 41 % of the same group reported the loss of foregone wages as a major disincentive.
These disparities reinforce pre-existing educational disparities along socio-economic lines – furthering the advantages of the already advantaged by expanding their social, economic and cultural capital. Ties between employment prospects, further mobility opportunities and Erasmus participation are strikingly clear.
Take the following two examples into account: European Union data identifies that those who participated in the Erasmus scheme have a 42% better employability rate and double the opportunity to change employers. Furthermore, 40% have been able to move to a different country after graduating, compared to 23% who did not study in another country.
Turning the tide on these disparities requires, first and foremost, a sensitivity and acknowledgement of the barriers faced by under-represented groups in their contact with learning mobility policy instruments. It requires a concerted effort to ensure that learning mobility acts to bridge educational divides as opposed to expanding them. The value and efficacy of any learning mobility instrument should be based on its potential to benefit and include those normally excluded from the table. We might then begin to imagine the idea of learning mobility as a possibility for all and not the few.
Erasmus, a European hit affected by inequality, here
SiEM, Student and Staff Perspectives on Diversity and Inclusion in Student Exchanges, here
Erasmus Mobility Statistics 2014 – 2019, here