Q&A with Joan-Anton Carbonell, Manager of the European and Study Abroad Office at Kingston University.
While recent research by the IU indicates that, overall, students who go abroad achieve better grades than non-mobile students, Joan-Anton Carbonell, Manager of the European and Study Abroad Office at Kingston University, decided to find out whether going abroad improved students' grades at institutional level. In the past year he has analysed average grades before and after mobility for more than 1,400 students going abroad from Kingston University from 2004-05, with mentions to their gender and ethnic origin.
Joan-Anton Carbonell will be leading a session on his findings at the 2016 Go International Conference on 28 April. In the lead-up to the event Joan-Anton Carbonell has answered for us a few questions about his research and its findings, and how it is crucial for the HE sector to understand in tangible terms the impact of outward mobility on the students and their institutions.
To participate in the 2016 Go International Conference: Mobility Makes a Difference, and see the agenda of the day, click here.
Excerpts of Joan-Anton Carbonell's interview are below.
IU: Why did you choose to look at the academic impact of mobility, rather than employment or soft skill impact?
Joan-Anton: The typical assumption is that the students improve their academic performance when they go abroad, but there is no data on it. I wanted to know if it is true, and I went through the student records, one by one, of all the students who studied abroad between 2004-05 and now - in total I looked at over 1400 students.
IU: How would you respond to the argument that mobile students do better academically because it is often the higher performing, and more proactive students that choose to study abroad to begin with?
Joan-Anton: I wouldn't say that's true. Indeed if the student goes abroad with a 50% grade he has more chance to see his grades increase than someone under 50%, but we also see average students who are looking to improve their grades by going abroad. And we have to bear in mind that that's only part of what motivates their decision to study abroad.
IU: Do you have any evidence of bad experiences of studying abroad? How can we prevent those?
Joan-Anton: One of the objectives of the research was actually to answer this very question! Obviously not 100% of the students improve their marks when they go abroad. I found some students who didn't get better grades, and other students who just gave up - either because they decided to stay living where they went abroad, or because they decided to give up studying. Lastly, there are a percentage of students that get worse marks after going abroad. It shows the results of the research are honest!
IU: How can other universities use this research from Kingston in developing their own mobility strategies?
Joan-Anton: It is a substantive piece of research so it can be used as a benchmark by other universities. Kingston also has a significant amount of students from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, so that goes against the idea that the students going abroad are white girls studying languages, so other universities can use this research broadly.
IU: How can we ensure universities offer this opportunity to all students, regardless of their social background?
Joan-Anton: The challenge is (and I was just discussing it with the Equality and Diversity Unit) having the same proportion of students from BME communities going abroad as those coming to the university and studying here. At the moment roughly 1/3 of our students going abroad are not white, whereas over 50% of students studying here are BME. However that figure also includes international students studying here, so we need some complex mathematical formulas to determine the exact proportion of students from BME communities who should be going abroad!
IU: Could studying abroad become an opportunistic initiative, where students would choose to do so solely for the better marks? (Similarly we have seen the number of young people volunteering abroad grow, for reasons closer to improving their CV than out of genuine altruism.)
Joan-Anton: Yes, this could happen. The more students we send abroad, the more this is likely to happen. We have to recognise that the students who are going abroad have made the effort of going abroad, but we don't want them to think that that would allow them to work less. So we make sure that both here and abroad, the students would have to pass with a 60 grade to get to the next year of their studies. However if going abroad is perceived as an opportunity to get easier credit, then more students will want to do it. But of course that is one of the dangers in mobility: can the massification of mobility go against the quality of mobility?
2016 Go International Conference: Mobility Makes a Difference will take place on the 28 April at Woburn House. View the programme and register your place.
Interview by Cleo Fatoorehchi, Communications Officer, Universities UK International