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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.5 Cross-border learning mobility

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 25/10/2020 - 23:09

On this page
  1. Policy framework
  2. Main cross-border mobility programmes for students in formal education
  3. Promoting mobility in the context of non-formal learning, and of youth work
  4. Quality assurance

Policy framework

Northern Ireland’s higher education strategy, which was issued in 2012 and contains output targets to 2020, includes a section on internationalisation. As a legacy of Northern Ireland’s political past, Northern Ireland has had a lower share of the international student market than might otherwise have been the case. One of the ambitions in the strategy is to set targets for attracting international students to Northern Ireland. 

Higher education providers will be encouraged to broaden and deepen their overseas partnerships for mutual benefit. Learners and staff will be encouraged to take up international mobility opportunities.  By 2020, international student recruitment should be catching up with the rest of the UK. (p.6)

The British Council's Study UK website provides information for foreign students, together with parents, teachers and employers, when considering international destinations for education and training.The strategy also contains an ambition from the Department for Employment and Learning (now the Department for the Economy) to ensure that every learner has the opportunity to undertake an international mobility programme, whether through government-funded programmes or those provided by individual institutions. 

The Northern Ireland Executive also supports the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility 2017-2020 which aims to increase the proportion of UK-domiciled students accessing international experiences as part of their degrees from 6.6% in 2014 to 13.2% in 2020. The policy focus is on outward mobility to produce UK graduates that are capable of working in a multinational and multicultural environment, and improve their employability.  

The Strategy has six objectives. The ones relevant for cross-border learning mobility are: 

  1. promote the benefits of study and work abroad
  2. monitor trends in student mobility
  3. build capacity in UK higher education to facilitate outward mobility
  4. share best practice in UK higher education

1) This includes promoting existing outward mobility initiatives, including higher education institutions’ own campaigns, Erasmus+, and the British Council’s Study, Work, create website.

2) This includes analysing data from the 4 UK nations to track mobility trends and work with HEI’s to maximise the outward mobility data that is used for statistical purposes.

3) This includes securing investment for outward mobility, and working with relevant stakeholders to widen participation in the UK sector to international opportunities. 

4) This includes providing a comprehensive online information hub for al relevant outward mobility resources. 

The Strategy is being implemented by Universities UK International (UUKi), the international arm of Universities UK. It established the Go International programme to work with higher education institutions, government and sector organisations to help increase the proportion of UK domiciled students with some international experience.

The social inclusion and engagement in mobility project (SIEM) is a collaborative cross-European partnership led by ESN and partners include UUKi the European University Foundation, the YES Forum, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (BE), University of Vigo (ES), Masaryk University (CZ), University of Latvia (LV), ESN Spain (ES) and ESN France (FR). The project addresses social inclusion, a key priority for the upcoming Erasmus programme. UUKi are delivering the research for the SIEM project and discuss its similar priorities with the Go International programme. 

This research includes conducting student and staff surveys, study visits and the delivery of focus groups to better understand what works when supporting students to access international experiences. Student and staff surveys were circulated across Europe between February and July 2020. The results of the survey will be published Spring 2021.

Go International consults regularly with colleagues who work in study abroad offices within higher education institutions, as well as with civil servants in the UK government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through its Outward Mobility Network.


Main cross-border mobility programmes for students in formal education

Schools’ programmes

Most schools organise visits abroad for pupils in support of their language or other subject learning. These are typically funded directly by the participants’ families. Schools generally operate a ‘hardship policy’ to make participation feasible for all students, whereby those in receipt of free school meals, or otherwise experiencing economic difficulties, do not have to pay.

Such visits generally begin in the later years of primary education, continuing into secondary education. Occasionally, visits may include exchanges with other schools. External funding is available to undertake trips of this nature. For example, funding specifically for developing students’ French skills includes the Lefèvre Trust, for students studying for GCSEs or A Levels, and the Charles de Gaulle Trust, for academic and vocational students aged between 17 and 19.


Erasmus+ provides students in higher education with the opportunity to study abroad in Europe for 3 to 12 months (per university cycle) as part of their degree. Students can take part in study mobility at any time during their degree, except for during the first year.

To be eligible students must:

  • be registered at a university or college that holds an Erasmus Charter for Higher Education
  • be undertaking higher education studies leading to a recognised degree (or other recognised tertiary level qualification) up to and including the level of doctorate
  • be enrolled in a short-term higher vocational education course, which includes foundation degree courses, or be a part-time student (providing study during the period abroad is full-time).

The Erasmus+ report 2018, released in January 2020, outlines the increasing trend of students participating in Erasmus+:

There is a strong trend with students increasingly opting to do Erasmus+ traineeships abroad, showing the great interest among young people to get practical experiences abroad to improve their career prospects. In 2017/2018, 95,800 students as well as recent graduates undertook training abroad compared to 76,000 participants in 2014.

Eligible students receive an Erasmus+ grant provided by the European Commission, paid through their institution, to contribute towards the extra costs that may be encountered from studying abroad. The Erasmus+ UK National Agency sets the Erasmus+ study abroad grant rate for students each year, taking account of the level of demand from institutions (mainly universities). Students with a severe disability or exceptional special needs may be entitled to extra funding to cover associated costs while abroad. UK students going abroad for the whole academic year may also qualify for a large contribution made towards the UK tuition fees which are payable to their UK institution for the year they are away. 

Recent VET graduates from a college, company or other training provider, such as former apprentices, can also take part in mobility opportunities. This is on condition that the Erasmus+ training placement takes place within one year of graduation. Traineeships may last between 2 weeks and 12 months and take place either in a workplace or in another VET institution with periods of work-based learning. Grants are designed to cover travel and subsistence costs. Funding may also be available for language learning.Further information is available from the British Council in Northern Ireland’s website. The Erasmus+ report 2018, released in January 2020, outlines the increased uptake in Vocational Education and Training (VET) learners. The number of received applications in VET for learners and staff mobility increased by over 750, to reach 7,854 in 2018.

Bilateral programmes

There are also bilateral programmes which support student mobility in specific areas.

Every year between 50 and 60 students from Northern Ireland participate in the Study USA programme which has been running since 1994 and is funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE).Students spend a full academic year at an American college or university studying business and management, although students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, other than business may benefit and are eligible to apply. The scholarship funding package for 2019 - 2020 includes:

  • room and board for the academic year
  • a textbook allowance
  • return flight to the US.

There is a student participant fee of £1500 for 2019/20.  If a student is in receipt of a maintenance grant this fee will be waived. Tuition fees are waived by the participating US colleges and universities. Due to COVID-19, the 2020-21 cohort will possibly be disrupted though admissions processes are continuing as usual until further notice.

Generation UK–India is a programme that aims to promote international experience and build engagement and trust between the UK and India. The British Council is working with partners to create opportunities for young people and professionals from the UK to gain study and work experience in India. The Study in India strand of the Generation UK-India programme, has placed more than 450 students at recognised institutions and universities across India for short courses.

Generation UK–China aims to help students from the UK to boost their employability, enhance their long-term job prospects, and develop a global mindset through study and work experience opportunities in China. Funding support is available for British students enrolled at UK universities (or recent graduates) to engage in the programme through either:

  • internships (two month placements across six cities in China)
  • academic scholarships (placements vary from 5-11 months across a range of locations.

These and other programmes are described on Study and work abroad, the British Council’s online resource for UK students, recent graduates, and young professionals seeking international opportunities to study, work, volunteer, research or develop their creativity.

Further information

For further information on mobility and other aspects of internationalisation in formal education, see the chapter 'Mobility and Internationalisation’ in the Eurydice education system description for Northern Ireland.

See also the European Commission’s Mobility Scoreboard and the background report for higher education and the Mobility Scoreboard database for initial vocational education and training.


Promoting mobility in the context of non-formal learning, and of youth work

Erasmus+, the European Union’s programme for education, training, youth and sport, funds different types of mobility for young people and those who work with young them. Youth exchanges allow groups of young people (aged 13 to 30) from countries participating in Erasmus+ to meet and live together for between 5 and 21 days. Participants jointly carry out a work programme designed and prepared by them before the exchange.The programme could be a mix of workshops, exercises, debates, role-plays, simulations and outdoor activities. Exchanges allow young people to develop competences; discover new cultures, habits and life-styles through peer-learning, and to strengthen values like solidarity, democracy and friendship. Exchanges may be organised through youth organisations or by informal groups of young people.

Erasmus+ also funds European Solidarity Corps, which replaced the European Voluntary Service in 2018. It is an initiative of the European Union which creates opportunities for young people aged 18-30 to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe.

The UK’s participation in current programmes running until and beyond 2020 is not affected by Brexit. 

For further information on mobility programmes in volunteering, see 'Cross-Border Mobility Programmes' in the chapter on 'Voluntary Activities'


Quality assurance

Erasmus Charter for Higher Education

The Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE) provides the quality framework for Erasmus+ funded activities carried out by higher education institutions (HEIs). The aims of Erasmus+ support the quality of student and staff mobility.

In order to participate in Erasmus+ projects, HEIs such as universities and other organisations whose core work is in the field of higher education must hold the ECHE. By signing the ECHE, an HEI confirms that its participation in Erasmus+ is part of its own strategy for modernisation and internationalisation. A Call for Proposals for the award of the ECHE is held annually and is awarded to HEIs for the full remaining duration of the Erasmus+ programme (i.e. until the end of 2020). This means that HEIs awarded with an ECHE in previous Call years (since 2013) do not need to apply again. The UK National Agency is mandated to ensure that UK HEIs which have received the ECHE abide by what they have promised. Compliance of the HEI with the ECHE principles is monitored by the UK National Agency through a variety of measures including monitoring visits, interim reports, systems’ checks and opn-the-spot checks.

For higher education institutions located in Partner countries, the ECHE is not required, and the quality framework is established through inter-institutional agreements between higher education institutions.

For organisations providing vocational education and training, a Call for Proposals for the award of the VET Mobility Charter is held annually. The Charter aims to reward and promote organisations, through streamlined procedures, as well as continuing to develop quality in mobility.

The Charter is not a compulsory requirement for participation, but its use is encouraged.

Erasmus+ National Agency

The Erasmus+ UK National Agency monitors and reviews activities performed as part of its work plan and reports to the UK Government, as well as the European Commission.

The UK National Agency also maintains a Country Advisory Group for Northern Ireland, to ensure that the implementation of Erasmus+ responds to the priority interests and concerns of the Devolved Administration and of civil society at large.

Programme beneficiaries monitor and evaluate the impact the mobility experience has had on the participants and report the benefits to the Erasmus+ National Agency, which in turn will analyse the impact within a national context.

Quality Code for Higher Education

Higher education institutions adhere to the Quality Assurance Agency’s Quality Code for higher education. Chapter B10: Managing Higher Education Provision with Others includes  as an indicator of sound practice in quality assurance.