Topping the Social Mobility Index: Bradford and Aston on Embedded Internship Programs

In higher education, social mobility is a crucial metric, reflecting a university's commitment to equalizing opportunities. Recently, one of our partner universities, the University of Bradford, topped the English Higher Education Social Mobility Index for the third year, followed closely by Aston University in second place, another of Virtual Internships’ partner universities.  

Here, we explore the dynamic intersection of social mobility and academia, spotlighting the transformative case studies of Aston University and the University of Bradford. Social mobility, the engine of upward mobility, underscores the pivotal role of education in breaking socio-economic constraints. 

Aston University and the University of Bradford have strategically partnered with Virtual Internships to propel social mobility through remote internships, reshaping the landscape of professional development. These alliances are visionary endeavors, recognizing the potential of structured, remote internship programs to dismantle geographical barriers and democratize career opportunities. 

In the following article, we delve into the collaborative initiatives undertaken by these institutions, showcasing how they lead the charge in fostering social mobility through innovative approaches to virtual internships.


The Social Mobility Index: 2023 Rankings

The English Higher Education Social Mobility Index serves as a comprehensive benchmarking tool. Developed to gauge the impact of universities on students' ability to transcend socio-economic barriers, the index considers factors such as access to higher education, graduate outcomes, and support for underrepresented groups. Through a nuanced assessment, the index provides valuable insights into how universities contribute to breaking down socio-economic constraints. It offers a vital perspective on their commitment to fostering inclusive environments and providing opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to excel.


Bradford University's three-year reign at the top

Taking the top spot for the last three years, including 2023, Bradford University is a standout institution for increasing access to career-enhancing opportunities for all its students. For a long time, Bradford University’s ethos has been centered on career-focused learning and inclusion, the notion that students at this university are achieving so much more than a degree. 

Bradford University partnered with Virtual Internships mid-way through 2023 to continue the momentum in ensuring students who were somewhat less engaged with Career Services due to accessibility, had the opportunities to seek and fulfill work experience through remote internships. To further motivate students who perhaps had barriers to internships, Bradford University supported them through a bursary paid at the beginning and end of the internship. 

Speaking to the Virtual Internships Program implemented at Bradford University, Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford, said the institution's core ambition was to make a difference for its students, the city, and the people of Bradford, “At Bradford, the principle of equality of opportunity is at the heart of who we are, what we do, how and why we do it. We are fiercely committed to widening access to higher education through our approach to recruitment and admissions."


Aston University's consistently high ranking for three years

Aston University has consistently ranked high on the social mobility index for the last three years, with 2023’s rankings being no exception, with the second-place spot. At Aston University, it is mandatory for all undergraduate students to take a placement year. However, to increase social mobility through increasing access and widening participation, digital employability programs were bought in. This is where the partnership with Virtual Internships began in 2019. Being pre-Covid, Aston was one of the early adopters of this method in higher education. 

The virtual placement allows students to gain experience in a career field of their choice anywhere in the world, thereby enhancing their professional profile by acquiring digital working competencies alongside their academic program, but without barriers, such as needing to relocate or commute

"Part of Aston University's success in advancing social mobility has been a result of providing work experience and placements as an integrated component of our degrees. We are recognised nationally for our undergraduate placement year and have recently built on our track record by embedding work experience opportunities like virtual internships to our postgraduate business and management degrees. This is part of a holistic professional development programme called the Aston Global Advantage which has recently been shortlisted for a QS Reimagine Education Award in the Innovation in Business Education category." - Elsa Zenatti-Daniels, Postgraduate Student Development Lead, Aston University.


Remote, Online, and Virtual Programs Bridging the Gap

Digital learning and career-advancement programs such as remote Internships redefine professional development by leveraging digital platforms for accessibility. This approach breaks down traditional barriers, offering flexibility that benefits students facing financial or geographical constraints. 

Regarding social mobility, these types of internships broaden access, eliminating logistical challenges. Bradford and Ston set the example for how universities can adopt similar approaches to enhance their commitment to social mobility, ensuring practical skills are accessible to a diverse range of students.


Embedding Internship Programs into University Curriculum

Integrating internships into university curricula bridges the gap between theory and practice, providing students with a holistic learning experience. This strategic incorporation enhances employability and readiness for the workforce, aligning with universities' goals of preparing students for successful careers. 

The positive influence on graduate outcomes positions students with practical acumen for success in their professions, making internship programs a cornerstone in achieving educational enrichment.

Of the 150+ universities across the world that Virtual Internships is partnered with, 75% opt to offer internships for academic credit and embed the program into the curriculum. This ensures students are committed to gaining experience and see the value in the internship, and therefore, it is a positive learning and development experience for both the student and our host companies. 


The Power of Collaboration: How More Universities Can Prioritize Social Mobility

We urge universities to see Bradford University and Aston University’s ethos as inspiration and prioritize social mobility, fostering inclusivity and accessibility. By joining the movement, institutions can empower students from diverse backgrounds to achieve their full potential. 

To boost their social mobility index, universities can strategically partner with Virtual Internships, leveraging the platform and 100% guaranteed internships for every student to enhance the impact of these career-enhancing initiatives. 

This collaborative approach underscores the shared responsibility of universities to create a more inclusive and accessible educational landscape, making social mobility a collective and sustained endeavor.

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