Growth rate of UK students abroad overtake Europe neighbours

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Growth rate of UK students studying abroad overtakes European neighbours

The growth rate of UK students applying to study in the EU through the Erasmus programme has overtaken the European average, according to analysis by the British Council.  

UK participation rates increased by 8% on the previous year, compared to the European average of 7.4%. Across Europe, more than 213,000 students received Erasmus grants to study or train abroad – a new record. 

For many years there was a persistent decline in the number of UK Erasmus students. However this is the fourth successive annual increase in UK participation rates and clearly shows that the downward trend has been reversed. This indicates that UK students are increasingly looking for overseas experience as a means of improving their career prospects. This is crucial in today’s global economy, where not only education but talent is borderless. Despite the record growth, however, UK participants still lag behind other EU countries. 

The Erasmus programme is managed in the UK by the British Council. Simon Williams, Head of EU Programmes, British Council commented: 

‘Of course it is excellent news to see that the number of UK students participating in the programme is growing. Nowadays, the market for skills and talents is global and UK and international employers are increasingly telling us that they value recruits with the sort of skills and experience that Erasmus can give. Taking part in Erasmus is a life-changing experience which can have a positive effect on students’ long-term career prospects. Not only does it provide financial assistance for students but it helps them to stand out in the job market, get better degrees and even earn more money.’ 

The British Council, which manages the programme in the UK, is working very closely with institutions to encourage more UK students to take part. It has recently launched an initiative to give extra funding to Erasmus students going to the less visited countries and those who are under-represented in the programme. 

In spite of the new figures, Mr Williams cautioned: ‘However, we cannot afford to become complacent, as the UK still lags behind comparable countries such as Spain and France where more than 30,000 students participated. We remain a very popular destination country, but our own students need more encouragement to study abroad.’ 

Encouraging students to go abroad as part of their studies has been at the heart of the European Union’s education programmes since the launch of Erasmus in 1987. Nearly a quarter of a century later, the Erasmus programme has provided 2.5 million European students with the opportunity to go abroad and study at a higher education institution or train in a company, making it the world’s most successful student mobility programme. 

‘The Erasmus programme is one of the great success stories of the European Union. The latest figures speak for themselves: Erasmus is more popular than ever and I am committed to securing more resources for it in future. Studying or training abroad opens doors to personal development and job opportunities so we are right to be ambitious when it comes to investing in our young people,’ said Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

Out of the 31 countries participating in the programme in 2009/10, the UK ranked sixth in terms of the overall number of students who went abroad, with 11,723 students participating. Spain sent the largest number of students abroad, followed by France and Germany. Since the programme began, more than 190,000 UK students have taken part, 7.6% of the total Erasmus student number. 

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For more information please contact the British Council Press Office on +44 (0) 207 389 4871. 

Notes to editors: 


To see the latest Erasmus statistics, please go to

The Erasmus programme is the higher education action of the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning programme 2007-2013. It is the European Commission’s flagship mobility programme that enables students and staff in higher education to study or work in another European country. More than 2.5 million people from Europe have taken part in the programme since its launch in 1987.

 The British Council, as the National Agency in the UK, has been managing the programme in the UK since 2007. Its role is to administer and disburse funds to institutions and promote the programme within the UK.

It involves student and staff mobility, the introduction and development of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and transnational projects.

The UK was the third most popular destination country for Erasmus students to study, after Spain and France. All the Nordic countries as well as the UK and Ireland were net importers of Erasmus students, with the UK hosting twice as many students as it sent abroad. The most popular destinations for UK students to visit were France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. 

Work placements in companies abroad have been supported through Erasmus since 2007 and are increasingly popular. In 2009/10, 35,000 students from across the EU (one in six of the total) chose this option. The UK ranked fourth for the number of students who went on a work placement in another country and was the second most popular destination for incoming Erasmus work placement students.

The average monthly Erasmus grant across the EU fell by around 7% to €254, due to the increased numbers getting support. However, UK students received an above average grant of €375 a month. This is a non-refundable, non-means-tested grant that helps cover the costs of travelling and living abroad. In 2009/10 students in the UK also benefited from having their tuition fees waived if they went for the full academic year, providing welcome financial support for all the students who participated.

Staff at higher education institutions can also take part in the programme, undertaking training or teaching. The UK ranked seventh for staff participation and saw an increase of 4% from the previous academic year. The UK was the fifth most popular destination for staff teaching after Germany, Spain, Italy and France and the most popular destination for staff training, followed by Spain and Germany. The most popular destinations for UK staff were Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Finland.

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The British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We work in over 100 countries worldwide to build opportunity and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. We work in the Arts, English, Education and Society, including science and sport - and in the process contribute to the security and prosperity of the UK and the countries where we work.  

The British Council plays a major role in supporting UK engagement in international education, including higher education, research, innovation and skills. We work in partnership with the UK education and research sectors, and with government departments and agencies in the UK and worldwide.  Our global network of offices delivers programmes involving sustained, strong engagement and dialogue with policy makers and senior education practitioners in the UK and overseas. These programmes speak directly to millions of students, scholars and young researchers each year. Through this work we make connections – creating networks and partnerships – and foster relationships. This is central to our role in building trust and engagement for the UK internationally.

Last year we engaged face to face with 18.4 million people and reached 652 million. We are a non-political organisation which operates at arm’s length from government. Our total turnover in 2009/10 was £705 million, of which our grant-in-aid from the British government was £211 million. For every £1 of government grant we receive, we earn £2.50 from other sources.  

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EU Background

The EU invested €415 million in Erasmus in 2009/10. 

Learning mobility is a key objective of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs and the focus of the Commission's 'Youth on the Move' initiative which builds on the success of Erasmus.

An estimated 10% of European students are currently studying or training abroad as part of their higher education; 4% of them receive an Erasmus grant.  

A recent Eurobarometer survey (IP/11/567) found that many students are thwarted in their ambition to study or train abroad due to a lack of funding. It found that, of those who wanted to go abroad, 33% couldn't afford it and nearly two-thirds (63%) of those who did had to rely on private funding or savings. "This finding underlines the need to strengthen our mobility programmes, which provide excellent value for money," said Commissioner Vassiliou. 

Studying or training abroad helps young people to develop skills which employers value - from language learning and greater intercultural awareness to leadership and adaptability. Erasmus students tend to be more willing to work abroad later in life.  

Erasmus has also helped to make higher education in Europe more international and helped to trigger improvements in course quality, comparability and transparency.  

Last month, EU education ministers adopted a joint plan to remove obstacles to learning mobility and to boost it through additional financing and curricula reforms.