Photo: Mikko Lehtimäki

What motivates students to go abroad?

A recent survey shows that higher education students in the Nordic countries are more likely to go on exchange if they have the support and encouragement of family, friends or fellow students. Finnish students get more encouragement than their peers in Sweden and Norway. They receive strikingly more support and guidance from their international co-ordinators.

CIMO took part in a survey launched in spring 2012 which examined the motives, barriers and benefits of studying abroad on an exchange of higher education students from Finland, Sweden and Norway. A total of 6,531 students responded to the questionnaire, among them 1,426 students from 10 higher education institutions in Finland.

The survey was co-commissioned by CIMO, the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education(SIU)and the Swedish Council for Higher Education.

Exchange students make better use of internationalisation at home

The questionnaire was sent to all third- and fifth-year students, including those – 67% of respondents – who had no experience of their own of student exchange.

The responses showed that students who had studied abroad on an exchange had certain distinct characteristics. More often than not, they were women, had highly educated parents and had moved within their own country for study purposes.

Exchange students also made better than average use of internationalisation at home: they were more likely to have taken courses in their home institutions already which had an international focus and were taught in English. They were also more likely to have participated in social activities with foreign students.

Finnish students do not see job prospects improving during exchange

The respondents felt positively about student mobility. This included even those who did not find student mobility a suitable option for themselves. What was valued most was the personal development that a student exchange was seen to foster. The key areas on which an exchange was felt to impact was making new friends, improving language skills and gaining an appreciation of cultural differences.

Finnish students were less confident than their peers in Sweden and Norway that a student exchange would improve their job prospects at home. They were more confident about improved career prospects abroad than were Norwegian students, but less confident than the Swedish respondents.

Going abroad to learn languages and cultures

The mobile students cited improving language skills, getting to know a new country or culture, gaining a new perspective on studies and enhanced job prospects as the most prominent motives for heading abroad. Factors related to language skills and culture emerged as more important than those directly related to studies, especially among Finnish students.

Finnish students are not similarly motivated as Norwegian and Swedish students to head for well-known institutions or to improve the quality of their education. Norwegian students seem especially conscious of quality issues in international education.

Relationships keep students at home

The most common reasons for students not to go on exchange are family, boy/girlfriend, friends or other personal reasons.Some respondents also cite factors related to studies, such as fear of prolonged graduation.

Reasons to do with family, relationships and fear of prolonged graduation were barriers to the mobility of Finnish students in particular. More than the other respondents, Finnish students also felt that a student exchange was out of their reach for financial reasons.

On the whole, however, students do not regret staying at home, for 68% of the non-mobile students did not regret their decision at all or regretted it only a little. Finnish students regret even less: the corresponding figure among the Finnish respondents was 73%.