We've all encountered it. The Vice Chancellor wants more students undertaking outbound mobility programs. It's in the institutional strategy, the Dean is on board, but somewhere, buried deep inside the faculty, is The Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper doesn't particularly like mobility: it takes time away from their other duties, it costs the faculty money and there are too many students emailing through questions. You, the mobility practitioner, have a good relationship with The Gatekeeper, but haven't yet managed to convince them as to why outbound mobility is so valuable to the institution. It always comes back to one thing, "Sure, it's good for individuals. But it takes too many resources for the university to manage. This is costing time and money - there's no real benefit to the institution." The Gatekeeper has the power to shut down overseas study options, both individual students and faculty programs, and is not afraid to do it. You need more data to get them on board. Well, try this. A few years ago I worked with a group of Australian universities to try to work out the approximate return on investment the outbound mobility program generated for a particular institution. What we found wasn't surprising for mobility practitioners, but certainly surprised a few of the 'Gatekeepers' that we presented the results to: for that every dollar the institutions invested in outbound mobility the return on investment for institutions was between $4 and $8. We took into consideration costs like the staff time (academic and administrative) needed to manage students going on outbound programs. We also looked at expense costs, like marketing or office costs. On the other side of the ledger, we looked at the research-demonstrated outcomes of outbound programs and worked out what that might mean for universities in terms of real value (dollars earned or dollars saved). Consider some of the following:
  • Outbound student mobility programs improve graduation rates. This reduces attrition and creates significant savings for universities in terms of reducing lost tuition fees, and saving on the recruitment and administration costs of having to 'replace' students that have dropped out.
  • Students that have studied abroad are far more likely to graduate on time (almost 20% more likely, according to some studies). If a student graduates on time, they don't need to be administered for additional study period, saving the university on administration costs. Australian universities can spend up to $2,000 per year to administer all the activities for a single student, so graduating students out more quickly has real savings.
  • It is well documented that overseas study experiences enhance students' engagement in academic affairs and life-long learning. Statistically, students who have studied abroad perform better academically upon their return from overseas study. This is particularly true for students who were weaker academically prior to their departure. This has a value to the institution, as students that are academically weaker require additional administrative and academic support (which is a cost). Students that have studied overseas are less likely to require that support.
  • Students who have studied overseas are far more likely to progress to further studies (particularly postgraduate studies), so there are significant advantages for institutions that have strong mobility programs to benefit by 'retaining' students through to further degrees. This bolsters both revenue (from fees and saved recruitment costs) and research (by gaining additional, skilled postgraduate researchers).
  • Some exchange partners also send inbound students on fee-paying study abroad programs. Arguably, if it weren't for the exchange relationship  those fee-paying students would probably go elsewhere, meaning plenty of inbound dollars lost. For one of the institutions in the study, this metric alone was worth more than $800,000 annually!
  • Similarly, it is possible to analyse how many students first come to an institution on an inbound exchange program, but subsequently return to undertake a Masters or other degree program.
The references for these research outcomes can be found here. Across these metrics, amongst others, we were able to identify serious value to universities - millions of dollars worth, in several cases. And this was not considering 'intangible' value to an institution, such as improved graduate outcomes, perception of prestige amongst potential students etc. These stats don't mean your The Gatekeeper will be persuaded to loosen their grip on the keys, but it certainly addresses their argument that mobility only has value for the participating individual. Not only is there extraordinary intangible value for institutions sending their students on mobility programs, there are real, bottom-line savings as well.   Rob Malicki Director, AIM Overseas 7th April 2015
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