On its face, this new research study affirms the importance of the scheme for student career development and their short-term employability: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-534_en.htm. My colleagues in the U.S. often ask me to cite research which does support – i.e, “justifies – the emphasis I place on linking the value-added of study abroad to a students’ entry into the workforce. And so here is precisely a set of outcomes we expect to see:
- 85% of Erasmus students study or train abroad to enhance their employability
- 5 years AFTER graduation, the rate of unemployment for these students is 23% lower
- 40% of these students change their country of residence or work st least once since graduation
- On average, these students have “better employability skills ” than 70% of all students
And the report goes on…between 2014-2020, 2 million EU students and 300,000 higher ed staff will be funded through Erasmus to go abroad.
But there is one caveat in the press release for the report which gave me pause: it says, “Erasmus students show higher values for these personality traits (tolerance, confidence, problem-solving skills, etc. -all valued highly by employers) ,even before their exchange starts…and after their program , these skills, compared with students who did not go on Erasmus, increase by 42%.
Am I wrong in seeing these reported outcomes, while excellent for participants, as evidence that Erasmus is taking students who already are pre-disposed to possess skills and competencies valued by employers, and distancing them even further from their peers who do not go on Erasmus? While the absolute numbers may increase, the question is, who gains? Same for the IIE Generation Abroad initiative in the U.S. – will success only widen the existing divide between those privileged white (and female) students who typically go abroad and their peers on campus who remain at home?