Undergraduate students on the move: academic staff perceptions of short term mobility programmes 

Year: 2013

Author: Sidhu, Ravinder, Dall'Alba, Gloria

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As part of a reinvigorated internationalisation policy, in recent years the University of Queensland seeks to send 20% of undergraduate students on outbound mobility programmes.  These short-term mobility programmes have been promoted to both outbound domestic and inbound international students as a set of advantages they can expect if they choose to study at the University.  These advantages are attributed to the University's positional status as a globally networked, industry-connected, comprehensive university, with ‘reputed excellence in both teaching and research' (UQ 2013). This paper is part of a larger research project exploring short-term outbound and inbound undergraduate student mobility at UQ. It uses key concepts from Bourdieusian sociology - field, habitus, forms of capital and distinction - to interrogate the relations between student transnational mobility and ‘global competence'.  Achieving global competence is a graduate attribute promoted by universities as an integral part of 21st century professionalism.  In this paper, we report on a relatively under-examined area, the perceptions of academic staff about the strengths and limitations of existing mobility programmes that seek to build global competencies in students.  Following interviews with staff involved in mobility programmes ranging from engineering to language studies, we inductively explored similarities and differences in their perceptions, within the context of the university's internationalisation policy and informed by our theoretical framework. Staff interviews indicate a range of perceived benefits for participating students, including broadened perspectives from experiencing the discipline in another educational system and culture, improved language capacity, expanded world view, potential for advancing relations with people from other countries, gaining a stronger international perspective and extending networks for a globalised workforce.  Against these benefits, a number of challenges are identified.  First, there is limited space in the formal curriculum for students to explore and make connections between the learning accrued through their mobility experience and their undergraduate majors.  Second, although there were some exceptions, the high levels of symbolic capital enjoyed by institutions of the Global North are reinforced in the University's existing partnerships. Non-western spaces emerge by default as ‘difficult' and dangerous spaces that may compromise student safety.  Taken together, these institutional perceptions and arrangements generally help to steer student travel preferences to Europe and North America ahead of study destinations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Notably, and in contrast, some academic staff were developing and actively promoting mobility programmes to more diverse destinations in order to maximize learning opportunities for students.