Thursday 24 April 2014

New research finds more than one third of UK students considering study overseas

Interest in studying abroad is growing rapidly among UK students, a national survey by the British Council shows.

Over a third (37 per cent) of 2,630 people who responded to the survey said they were considering overseas study – a 17 per cent point increase on the proportion who said the same in a similar poll last year.

A thirst for travel and adventure and experiencing other cultures are the most common reasons for contemplating a university, college or summer school education abroad. But the survey also showed that higher university tuition fees in the UK are inspiring more students to look at higher education options in other countries where fees can be much lower.

The results of the survey will be debated at the British Council’s ‘Going Global’ annual conference for leaders of international higher education, hosted this year in Miami between April 29 – May 1. The survey, conducted by British Council’s Education Intelligence service, found that the United States is by far the most popular study destination among UK students, chosen by a third of those considering a course in another country. In a parallel poll of 4,680 American students, the UK was the preferred international study option, chosen by a fifth of respondents.

Among UK students, Australia (selected by 9 per cent), France and Germany (both 5 per cent), are the next most popular choices.

A fifth of the UK respondents who wanted to study abroad said they were motivated by wanting to experience other cultures through foreign travel and to have a “unique adventure”. When asked if an overseas study experience would help them stand out when applying for jobs in the future, 88 per cent of UK respondents said they believed it would. The greatest academic benefits of studying overseas were seen as gaining credit for the students’ field of study, improving language skills, and responding to limited options at home.

But 57 per cent of UK respondents also said they had been inspired to consider overseas study by the significant rise in university tuition fees in the UK. This represents a 30 per cent increase on the proportion who gave the same response in the survey last year.

Most students felt there is still not enough information available about opportunities for studying overseas, with 79 per cent of those not planning to study abroad feeling this way along with a third of those with international study in mind.

However, awareness of UK government scholarship programmes available to help students study abroad appears to be growing, with 26 per cent saying they were aware of these compared with just 17 per cent last year. In December 2013 the UK Higher Education International Unit, with support from government and the British Council, launched the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility aiming to promote the benefits of studying abroad.

The biggest perceived barriers to studying overseas among British students are worries about fitting in with another culture, lack of confidence in foreign language skills, and concerns about cost and foreign travel.

A report on the findings, ‘Broadening Horizons 2014: Embedding a culture of overseas study’, suggests that one way these barriers might be overcome is by universities and colleges offering to send their students to study for a period at overseas institutions that they have partnerships with. Responses from prospective students indicated that this could prove a very popular option.

“As UK and US institutions grow their international footprints by extending their programmes and campuses into many global regions, their own international operations could provide a cost effective, academically certified and pre-packaged opportunity for home students” the report says.

The report also contains the findings of the survey of students in the United States, showing a 12 per cent decline in interest in studying abroad among American students (to 44 per cent) despite a US government campaign to increase outward mobility. Perceived cost is the greatest deterrent among American students, and the report suggests that economic conditions may have dampened the normally buoyant demand for studying overseas. 

Dr Jo Beall, the British Council’s Director of Education and Society, commented:

“It is essential for the UK’s global competiveness that our next generation gain more international skills and understanding, so it’s very encouraging to see that more UK students are considering studying abroad. The internationalisation of the UK’s education sector cannot be a one way process. More of our young people need to be prepared to travel if we’re to catch up with countries like France and Germany. The British Council offers tens of thousands of opportunities to work or study abroad every year, and we encourage the higher education sector to work with government and industry to help more people get a passport in to the global economy.”

Vivienne Stern, Director of the UK Higher Education International Unit, remarked: 

“An international experience should be available to all UK students through a broad range of work or study abroad options as part of their UK Higher Education. This sort of opportunity is invaluable in an increasingly competitive international jobs market and we know that students benefit in a range of other ways too. The UK Strategy for Outward Mobility will help to increase the proportion of students who participate in overseas placements as part of a UK undergraduate or postgraduate degree programme, or who undertake international postgraduate research.“

Notes to Editor

The report will be presented and analysed at the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international higher education, in Miami, on Wednesday 30 April at 17:00 local time.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 7,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publically-funded grant provides less than 25 per cent of our turnover which last year was £781 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

About the UK HE International Unit

The UK HE International Unit is the only body to represent all the UK's Higher Education bodies internationally. It acts for the HE sector at Governmental and EU policy forums and enhances the UK higher education sector's ability to compete in a global market by providing intelligence on internationalisation and European policy development. The International Unit initiates and carries out high profile projects and activities, commission’s research and produces publications to support and develop the UK HE sector's international activities.