University mobility and professional mobility

Antonio de Castro. Dean of Undergraduate Studies. IE University

1 July 2013

The decision of Visa and MasterCard to refuse to let people pay for VPNs using their payment system is a sad example of how governments’ obsessions with controlling everything is getting out of hand.

The Spanish university system has traditionally operated on a closed-door basis. There are a vast number of historical reasons for this, including the fact that a choice of university in Spain tended to hinge on the links said university had with the school where the candidate had studied, and, in turn, where his or her family home was located. The proliferation of universities following the division of the Spanish state into autonomous regions has served to consolidate this trend, with the result that internal mobility has, until recently, been very limited, and international mobility even more so. Moreover, the refusal to recognize qualifications obtained outside the Spanish system also served to block any influx from overseas, resulting in a total lack of foreign students and faculty.

In recent years, Spain’s university system has started to open up a little, which has at least resulted in new trends, particularly where the attitudes of key stakeholders, namely students and faculty, are concerned. Regulations have been transformed, largely as a consequence of the progressive introduction of the European Higher Education Area, while the development of international mobility programs has also played a key role in the field of university education. But perhaps the biggest transformation of all is that which has taken place in Spanish society and the move it has taken to embrace the outside world, which has occurred in parallel to the expansive effect of the marked economic development of Spain over the last few decades. Even so, a broad range of cultural and social changes still need to take place, ranging from attitudes to family relations, to putting mechanisms in place to enable students to become independent, and acquire essential and sorely lacking language skills in order to foster  international mobility. Added to this we have the effect of the economic and financial crisis of the last five years which have had a direct impact on investment with all the resulting repercussions, sometimes dramatic, on the whole of society.

Studies show us that location, together with an institution’s prestige, is one of the determining factors when it comes to choosing a university. This is one of the findings of a recent survey carried out by IE University headed “The Next Generation in Higher Education”.  When talking about location, proximity to the student’s home town is no longer a determining factor if the student has the necessary funding to sustain themselves. Moreover, globalization has brought a level of interconnection that permits immediate access to information regardless of physical distance, making it easier to study far from home. Hence there are far more possible choices, and the decision of where and what to study is no longer conditioned by where the student’s family lives, and could be anywhere not only in the country but also the world.

If we also consider that university studies are increasingly linked to subsequent career progression (while not underestimating other types of technical skills), we could say that university mobility could become a major cornerstone for the subsequent professional mobility of students. Students who leave their local and family environment show a willingness to embrace change which will be further strengthened during their learning experience, bringing additional skills and broadening their vision of their future career. Hence students are equipped to see that work opportunities exist on a global scale and that professional mobility is the easiest way to access them. In contrast to the traditional idea that professional mobility means missing out on the local labor market, mobility is now seen as a tool for managing a career based on previously acquired skills. For all these reasons, current and upcoming generations are in a good position to see national and international mobility through a broader lens that extends not only to the period of university studies, but also throughout their entire career.

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