Q&A: Two approaches to encouraging more students to engage in international activities inspire colleagues from different departments to work more closely together

07 Apr 2016

Rose Matthews and Dörte Stevenson, Head of the Global Opportunity Centre at Cardiff University and Head of Global Opportunities & Exchanges at The University of Sheffield respectively, will lead a session at our upcoming Go International Conference 2016: Mobility Makes a Difference on the strategic approach that both universities have taken to encourage more students to engage in international activities.


From left to right: Rose Matthews and Dörte Stevenson

The overall aim of both institutions is very similar but there are also distinct differences. Cardiff University has established the Global Opportunity Centre which develops, promotes and supports work, study and volunteering opportunities abroad through one central unit. Sheffield, on the other hand, has developed the brand Your Global Sheffield which brings together global opportunities, both at home and abroad, from different departments across the institution on a virtual platform. 

During the session Rose and Dörte will look at how, and why, both institutions have developed their models and evaluate the impact these approaches have had on students, on mobility and the institution. They give us a taster in the interview below.

IU: How did your particular approach to promoting international activities develop?

Rose: Cardiff University’s approach stems largely from the introduction of an outward mobility target: By 2017, 17% of our home students will have studied, worked or volunteered abroad for at least a month during their time at Cardiff. In the absence of existing central provision for international internships and international volunteering, development of both programmes was required from scratch. In order to facilitate access to information and funding for staff and students, it was a logical step to house all international mobility opportunities under one roof. Another priority was to raise the profile of mobility and to encourage engagement across the whole institution.

Dörte: The University of Sheffield signalled its commitment to promoting international and intercultural experiences for students in several strategies, and numerous initiatives existed across the institution which furthered this agenda. However, it was felt that more needed to be done to meet our commitments to students and the Vice-Chancellor initiated a project group to investigate how to increase international and intercultural experiences for students. This resulted in a number of recommendations which were endorsed at senior level and then taken forward by a cross-professional services working group. The group created the Your Global Sheffield brand to promote the various activities as one overarching set of opportunities.

IU: What has the impact of your approaches been on students?

Both: Our universities have seen the development of a wide variety of opportunities for undergraduate students in terms of type, location and duration. The aim being that there is something for everyone; that students from disciplines where a curriculum-based opportunity does not exist, or students with personal circumstances which challenge their ability to travel abroad for a semester or a year, are able to access international placements or, in the case of Sheffield, experience internationalisation at home.

The ability to undertake placements related to fields outside degree specialisms allows students to explore different career opportunities while developing key skills to support success as ‘global graduates’.

IU: What has the impact of your approaches been on mobility and the institutions?

Rose: At Cardiff, with the three strands of mobility under one roof, we are able to provide a consistent approach to areas such as health and safety and work to ensure that the international placements organised by the Global Opportunity Centre are safe, ethical (in the case of volunteering) and worthwhile in relation to the host organisation and community, as well as the individual student.

Through the development of a central system to capture data on outward mobility across the institution, we are now able to accurately measure student uptake of opportunities, including monitoring uptake from students from widening participation backgrounds.

Dörte: Through Your Global Sheffield, we are able to promote international activities to students in one place. It also encourages closer working between the various stakeholders who manage the activities and, as a result, has led to cross promotion of opportunities. The project group includes colleagues from The University’s Students’ Union and the close cooperation of all colleagues has encouraged better communication and much improved understanding of what our overall offer entails.

Both: The introduction of both the Global Opportunity Centre and Your Global Sheffield have also enabled greater engagement with academic staff and other professional services across the institution resulting in an increase in the number of degree programmes incorporating an integrated period of mobility.

Generally speaking, the holistic approaches at Cardiff and Sheffield have helped raise the profile of student mobility across the respective universities proving a central hub or resource of information and expertise for students and staff alike on student mobility.

IU: Have your approaches helped you also improve your monitoring and evaluation of outward student mobility?

Both: Throughout the session we will encourage discussion on further ways to measure the impact on students. At present, in addition to project evaluations and other measures, an example of a way Cardiff is measuring impact is through a digital storytelling project, which we will discuss in more detail.  At Sheffield, we engage students after they have participated in an activity and we will portray how this has helped with reflection.

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