Is unequal uptake of Erasmus mobility really only due to students’ choices? The role of selection into universities and fields of study

Published in Journal of European Social Policy, 2020

With Sylke V. Schnepf (JRC)


Erasmus student mobility is the most recognised element of Erasmus+ and clearly popular with an increase in student uptake from 3,000 in 1987 to over 300,000 today. Recent studies show that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to study abroad than better-off students, thereby benefitting less from improved employment opportunities and language competences often associated with mobility. Unequal uptake is generally explained by students’ choices: disadvantaged students hold lower social capital which leads them to decide against mobility. However, not much is known about the importance of students’ selection into universities and fields of study. Using multilevel logistic regressions, this article examines whether social segregation in universities and field of study matters beyond individual characteristics for explaining unequal Erasmus mobility uptake. The study exploits rich population data of around 200,000 UK first-degree graduates of the year 2014/2015 deriving from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data. Results show that while student characteristics like ability and social status are important predictors of Erasmus mobility, they only explain one part of unequal uptake. In addition, social segregation of universities and fields of study contribute to the unequal mobility pattern found. Student mobility is less common for students enrolled in fields of study and universities attended by disadvantaged students conditional on student characteristics. This implies that student mobility could become more inclusive if grant funding and incentives targeted universities attended by a high proportion of disadvantaged students.