Why I love Go Abroad for Staff

Photo Credit: University of Edinburgh Collections

In this post, Lesley Balharry, Staff Programmes Manager at Edinburgh Global, reflects on her first experience of going abroad as a staff member, the genesis of the programme at UofE and the positive impact it is having on staff’s professional development and networking opportunities.   

A bit of background

The Erasmus programme was launched in 1987, named after Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch philosopher and theologian and one of the main figures of European intellectual life during the Renaissance. It is a ‘backronym’ which stands for EuRopean community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students.

Erasmus has long been synonymous with student exchanges in Europe, but what many don’t know is that it also supports teaching and training activities for staff, and that, besides opportunities across Europe, it also provides funding for staff to receive training or deliver teaching at partner institutions worldwide.

In the early years, the staff programme was open only to academic staff and we funded perhaps 20 academics each year to undertake teaching visits. Then, in the 2007-2013 iteration of the programme (the Erasmus Lifelong Learning Programme), the opportunity was extended to non-academic staff to include teaching and training activities.

My experience of Go Abroad for Staff

My first experience of Go Abroad for Staff was attendance at an Erasmus Staff Training Week hosted by the University of Aix-en-Provence back in 2009 when I was a fresh-faced young member of staff with little experience of travelling for work. Looking back at the report I completed at the time, I was struck by the benefits of meeting colleagues face-to-face, getting to know the campus and city our students were going to study at, and gaining an understanding of the challenges they would face.

It was refreshing and motivating to share experiences and good practice with colleagues from many other European countries. I was very enthusiastic about a session we’d received on intercultural differences. I hoped the opportunity would be taken up by administrative staff in schools and departments at Edinburgh.

My comments still chime, I think, eleven years later, with those of many staff after their first Go Abroad for Staff experience.

Developing the programme at Edinburgh

After returning to what was the International Office (now Edinburgh Global) after a period of maternity leave in 2014, the Go Abroad Office (now Study and Work Away Service) had grown substantially and I took on the task of developing the staff side of the programme.

Since 2013/2014, the message has spread and we have funded more than 500 UofE staff to go on short teaching and training visits across Europe. And since 2016, we’ve also been able to support similar activities outside of Europe, via the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility programme, the non-European branch of the Erasmus+ programme, with staff visits to partner universities across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Flexible funding

The wonderful thing about the programme is that it supports staff, across all areas of work and at all levels of seniority, to undertake a wide range of development activities. The aim is that the activity should benefit you personally and professionally as well as providing benefits to your wider team (and to the wider University).

Training can mean just about anything that you would envisage as a development activity: a skill-building workshop or course, a networking event, a research or lab-based activity, job shadowing, a staff training week delivered by a partner… Just tell us what you want to do!

A teaching visit might be as straightforward as spending a week at a partner institution delivering a course that’s already been tried and tested on students at Edinburgh. Or it might involve setting up a one-off bespoke course for a group of students at a particular host institution. Teaching at all levels is supported, including summer programmes and short courses.

The training option has been a really popular development at Edinburgh and we’ve worked hard to promote this to staff across the University. But we’ve also seen a welcome (though more modest) growth in participation in staff teaching activities, especially amongst more junior staff at earlier stages of their career. The short teaching visits supported by the programme can give less experienced staff an opportunity to gain experience, make contacts, and initiate collaborations.

What’s not to love?

But don’t just take my word for it…

I’m clearly a fan! But I’m not the only one – according to our most recent feedback reports:

  • 79% of participants believe that they have gained experience relevant to their current role and professional development
  • 97% report that they have reinforced or extended their professional network
  • 94% say their experience has increased their job satisfaction.

Current circumstances mean our horizons may be narrowed for now but there’s still a whole world out there!

Read some of our staff testimonials

Find out more!

Lesley Balharry

Lesley Balharry started working on the Erasmus programme at Edinburgh in 2001 with a primary focus on student mobility. For the past 5 years, Lesley has been fully immersed in the staff side of the programme (Go Abroad for Staff) and has seen it grow, from an unloved side project catering for the occasional academic teaching visit, into a valuable professional development opportunity for staff across the University.

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