Student Mobility – How to bridge the gap between research and practice
Bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners and between research and practice in the field of international student mobility (ISM) is as urgent as it is complex and requires targeted action. While knowledge is available, it does not reach practitioners or policy makers.
The first step in connecting research and practice is to get a clear picture of who the actors of ISM are. Mapping stakeholders in ISM was the purpose of a recent survey of researchers and practitioners in ISM.
Definition of stakeholders
Before we delve into the question of who the stakeholders of ISM are, it is important to ensure that there is a common understanding of what “stakeholders of ISM” means. Therefore, the survey participants were first asked to express their agreement (or disagreement) with the proposed definition of stakeholders in ISM: “Stakeholders in ISM are organizations and specific people/experts who, through their roles, have an active function at different levels of politics/ Student mobility strategy/design, decision-making, funding, facilitation and/or support of ISM.”
The vast majority of respondents (87%) agreed with such a definition.
To identify key ISM stakeholders, respondents were given the option to select from a list of organizations and a list of individual roles; They also had the opportunity to suggest other stakeholders that may be missing from the lists.
Organizations involved in ISM
With regard to organizations dealing with ISM, the results show that ISM is a multi-level phenomenon that affects different areas of society. Unsurprisingly, higher education institutions (HEIs) emerge as key players, chosen by around 40% of respondents.
After higher education, about 20% of respondents chose governmental (national and supranational) organisations, mobility funding organizations and student organisations. Finally, a small percentage of respondents also named civil society organizations and business organisations.
The idea of HEIs being the main players in the ISM was expected as HEIs are home to student mobility and HEIs actively recruit international degree-seeking students, enter into agreements to set up exchange programs and welcome and support international students during their study abroad experience.
The importance of the role of government and mobility funding organizations is also easy to understand as governments make policies, laws and regulations that can facilitate or hinder ISM. Some countries even have specific internationalization guidelines that clearly state specific goals for ISM.
The importance that respondents attach to the role of student organizations is interesting and points to an important role played by students that is often overlooked.
Student organizations play an important role in supporting international students before, during and after their study abroad experience. Not only do they welcome and support international students, but they also play an important role in promoting internationalization at home, particularly those student organizations that facilitate contact and exchange between local and international students.
The role of the individual in the ISM
Regarding the role of individuals as stakeholders in ISM, the survey results reveal a complex and populated landscape similar to that for organizations, while at the same time providing some insight into the relative importance each stakeholder plays in ISM.
Political decision-makers and decision-makers as well as mobility officers are identified as the most important interest groups. This is not surprising given that policy makers and decision makers create the rules and regulations in ISM and mobility officers are the practitioners responsible for implementing ISM.
The importance of careers advisers in the ISM shows how the ISM is linked to students’ future career prospects, which is a well-known and well-studied phenomenon.
More interesting is the discussion of the role of the academic practitioner, as it is central to linking research and practice. The Scholar-Practitioner is a practitioner (e.g. a mobility officer or a person working for an organization working in ISM) who also carries out some research work in addition to his/her daily work in the implementation of ISM; or a scholar who is active in the implementation of ISM alongside his teaching and research duties (e.g. a professor developing an international degree or a researcher directly involved in the implementation of mobility).
Scientific practitioners have knowledge from both worlds (research and practice) and can therefore act as a bridge between them. Academics and practitioners are able to ‘speak’ different ISM-related languages and they are able to translate key messages to different audiences, especially inside and outside academia.
Survey Description and Participant Profiles
These findings come from a survey funded by the European Network on International Student Mobility (ENIS), a network created precisely to bridge the gap between research and practice in the field of student mobility.
Apart from the stakeholder mapping results presented in this article, the survey covered two other topics:
• understanding of stakeholder needs;
• Identifying the best method for academic fieldwork to translate the results into useful information for ISM activities.
Respondents to the survey were people heavily involved in ISM, holding different positions and having different responsibilities, characteristics and resources.
In the summer of 2022, an invitation was sent to around 290 people; The total number of replies received and considered for analysis was 87, representing a response rate of 30%.
Aware that the sample size is small and not representative of the entire community of researchers and practitioners in ISM, it nonetheless represents a group of highly qualified ISM experts currently working on ISM across Europe – in 34 different countries. Therefore, the results of the survey provide interesting qualitative data.
The work is part of ENIS, funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST). This brings together an international team of more than 180 experienced researchers, early-stage researchers and stakeholders from across Europe and beyond.
It is intended to meet the need for systematic interdisciplinary and international knowledge exchange around the ISM and bundles a variety of approaches to cope with international student mobility. This includes theoretical frameworks, research methods, findings and best practice examples, but also the search for ways to translate scientific findings into recommendations for ISM practice.
ENIS is organized into five working groups that focus on:
• thematic reviews of ISM;
• Studying the impact of COVID-19 on ISM trends;
• Innovation in student mobility research;
• Translating research results into practical recommendations;
• Promotion of knowledge building on ISM; And
• Event coordination to disseminate advances in student mobility.
The goal is to increase our understanding and knowledge of what works best in ISM. Access to better data – with the survey expanding our knowledge – is an essential element of his work.
Alenka Flander is Director of CMEPIUS, Slovenian Erasmus+ and Internationalization Agency for Higher Education. Email: [email protected] Eleonora Erittu is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Bologna, Italy. Email: [email protected] Giorgio Marinoni is Manager of Higher Education and Internationalization at the International Association of Universities. Email: [email protected] To find out more about the ENIS action, please visit the ENIS website. The project ends in autumn 2025.