Student perspectives on going international


September 2015


Together with the UK Higher Education International Unit’s Go International, we present this report on student perspectives on the benefits of, and barriers to, spending time abroad as part of a UK undergraduate degree. The research aims to provide evidence for UK higher education institutions and policy makers who are developing and implementing initiatives to increase the number of UK-domiciled students accessing international opportunities.

Key findings include:

  • The majority of students surveyed perceived a relationship between spending time abroad during their studies and their employability, academic success and personal development. 
  • Students perceive very short mobility periods to result in similar impacts to longer periods of mobility of one semester or a full year.
  • The principal motivations to go abroad, whether studying, working or volunteering, were a desire for an enjoyable experience and to enhance employability and career prospects.
  • Key factors in the decision to go abroad were the availability of funding, personal safety and security and perceived quality of host and location.
  • Services and information offered by institutions such as help completing an application were considered the most valuable in decision making, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • While students are motivated by the experiences and opinions of other students when making a decision, the encouragement of academic tutors was a significant factor.

Barriers to mobility:

Students considering a period abroad included fear of isolation, insufficient funding, lack of knowledge of available opportunities, lack of language skills and potential impact on degree length as barriers. Funding and lack of knowledge opportunities were also key concerns for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The findings are based on an online survey of 2842 undergraduate students in 37 institutions and focus groups in eight of these institutions. 

Our senior Higher Education advisor, Kevin Van Cauter, said: “This research tells us that more and more UK students are enjoying the benefits of going abroad to study, work or volunteer. It’s really important to see that short periods away can still have a big impact, because that reduces the barriers for some people who want to have this valuable experience. We know that between 2007-13 the number of UK students going to Europe through Erasmus grew by 115 per cent. What’s really exciting is that the British Council’s new Generation UK India programme saw almost 4000 applications for the first 400 places this year, giving British students a short immersion experience in an Indian company or education institution. This suggests young people in the UK are eager for many different types of opportunities; the challenge now is for the sector and government to come up with ways to satisfy this desire to explore the world. The British Council’s Study Work Create campaign provides a gateway to thousands of funded international opportunities and expert advice about overseas experiences – but we want to offer even more.”