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Number of higher education students’ mobility periods abroad not as high as during peak years – universities and universities of applied sciences developing in different directions in terms of mobility

Current issues Higher education Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for higher education International mobility Internationalisation
In 2023, higher education students in Finland completed a total of just over 10,000 mobility periods abroad, counting both long-term and short-term periods. Compared to the previous year, the total number of mobility periods completed increased by 21%, or 1,750 periods. The data was collected by Vipunen – Education Statistics Finland.
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While student mobility has started to recover since being halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Finland’s mobility figures are still far behind the pre-pandemic peak years. For example, in 2016, Finnish higher education students completed a total of 14,600 mobility periods.

The Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) is concerned about the student mobility figures being lower than before, as international competence is nowadays needed in all sectors. One of the key ways of developing this competence is through student mobility. In fact, the European Commission proposed in November 2023 that EU Member States set a goal of having 25% of higher education graduates complete a mobility period abroad as part of their degrees by 2030.

Popularity of short-term mobility increasing – deeper understanding needed of the effectiveness of short-term mobility periods

The majority of mobility periods completed by Finnish students are long-term mobility periods: in 2023, Finnish students completed a total of 6,570 long-term mobility periods, while the number of short-term mobility periods completed was 3,440. The EU’s Erasmus+ programme continues to play an important role in long-term student mobility, providing support to 67% of outgoing students and 78% of incoming students. 

While the popularity of both long-term and short-term mobility periods has increased since the previous year, the increase in the number of completed short-term mobility periods has been particularly significant: the number of completed mobility periods lasting less than three months was nearly 1,400, indicating an increase of 68% from the previous year. Short-term mobility periods are popular especially at universities of applied sciences (UAS). Of all mobility periods lasting less than three months, 70% are completed by UAS students, with students in the health and wellness sector completing a lot of short-term mobility periods in particular. One of the factors believed to have contributed to this growth is the fact that since 2021, the Erasmus+ programme has also been offering financial support for blended short-term mobility periods in addition to long-term student exchange and traineeships periods.

International mobility periods of higher education students from and to Finland 2016-2023
International mobility periods of higher education students from and to Finland 2016-2023

In the past, the monitoring of student mobility in Finland has focused mainly on examining long-term mobility periods, but nowadays it is also essential to take into account mobility periods lasting less than three months, as a shorter exchange period is a better option for many higher education students. Furthermore, the forms of financial support offered by the current Erasmus+ programme support short-term mobility. 

It is important to offer students a variety of opportunities for internationalisation, but further information is also needed on the extent to which exchange periods as short as 1–2 weeks strengthen the development of international competence.  

Finland has more incoming than outgoing exchange students

The number of incoming exchange students recorded in Finland in 2023 was just over 11,000, with the number of outgoing exchange students being somewhat lower. The number of incoming students completing mobility periods of at least three months decreased by over a thousand compared to the previous year, whereas the number of incoming students completing short-term mobility periods increased by approximately one thousand. The numbers of short-term mobility periods completed by incoming students are the same at universities and universities of applied sciences. 

Major differences in mobility between fields of education

In the UAS sector, the most active students in terms of outgoing international mobility can be found in the fields of services, arts and culture and education, if the number of outgoing students is examined in relation to the number of new students in the field. In the engineering and technology fields and the field of economics and business administration, the number of incoming exchange students is higher than the number of outgoing exchange students. 

In the university sector, the most active students in terms of outgoing international mobility can be found in the fields of economics and business administration, social sciences and arts and culture. The number of incoming exchange students is higher than the number of outgoing exchange students in nearly all fields in the university sector, with the difference being particularly significant in the fields of engineering, technology and natural sciences.  

All in all, in the UAS sector the number of students going on a mobility period each year corresponds to 11% of the number of new students. When examined this way, university students are more active in terms of outgoing mobility, with the number of students going on a mobility period each year corresponding to 20% of the number of new students. 

Outgoing student mobility to Asia increasing slowly – Europe still the most popular destination

More than three quarters of Finnish students head to European countries for their mobility periods, in addition to which nearly all of the short-term mobility periods completed by Finnish students take place within Europe. In terms of incoming student mobility, Europe is even more dominant, with over 80% of incoming exchange students hailing from European countries. 

However, Europe’s share of both outgoing and incoming student mobility decreased slightly in 2023, while Asia’s share correspondingly increased. Outgoing student mobility to Asia stopped almost completely during the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since started to slowly increase again.

Blended mobility increasing

The EU has begun to increasingly support blended mobility, in which the physical period abroad is supplemented by virtual studies completed in the student’s country of origin. The popularity of virtual mobility increased in 2023 compared to 2022, when statistics on it were collected for the first time. In 2023, the mobility periods of 10% of outgoing students and 9% of incoming students included a virtual component. The number of mobility periods that included a virtual component more than doubled from the previous year, with virtual components being added mainly to short-term mobility periods. 

Universities of applied sciences include virtual components in mobility periods much more frequently than universities. 

Several reasons behind declining student mobility – keys to increasing mobility largely in the hands of higher education institutions themselves 

The Finnish National Agency for Education was working to promote student mobility due to falling mobility figures even before the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end EDUFI has been engaging in intensified national cooperation with higher education institutions, student organisations and the Ministry of Education and Culture since 2022. This cooperation has involved identifying reasons behind falling student mobility figures and ways of reversing the decline.

One factor that students themselves have highlighted as a major obstacle to student exchange in the EUROSTUDENT VIII survey, among other studies, is financial reasons. This sentiment may be fueled by uncertainty about the impact that an exchange period will have on study progress and lack of information, as the grants available for student mobility have actually increased significantly in recent years. For example, in 2022 the Erasmus+ programme grant for a student exchange period was 488 euros per month, whereas in 2016, when student mobility was at its highest, it was only 236 euros per month on average. 

Measures that the management groups of higher education institutions see as crucial for increasing student mobility include flexible curricula that facilitate mobility, the effective recognition of studies completed abroad, timely student guidance, encouragement of mobility and making sure that international mobility is seen as a key part of the institution’s strategic international cooperation.

Considering the autonomy and strong independent agency of Finnish higher education institutions, the keys to increasing student mobility are largely in their own hands. In order to actually achieve this goal, higher education institutions need to commit to the aforementioned measures, among others.

 

Further information:

Programme Manager Anni Kallio, anni.kallio [at] oph.fi, tel. +358 29 5338696
Counsellor of Education Maija Airas, maija.airas [at] oph.fi, tel. +358 29 5338588