UK students continuing to look overseas

Thursday 28 May 2015


  • New survey shows half (50%) of UK students who are considering studying overseas would like to do so at undergraduate level
  • Latest (2013/14) Erasmus statistics show 15,566 UK students spent up to a year through the programme studying or working in another European country, up 6.8% year on year. Across the lifetime of the programme (2007-2013) there was growth in UK participation of 115 per cent.
  • In 2013/14 UK universities reported that 28,640 students (22,100 of whom were UK domiciled) went abroad, up from 18,105 the previous year.

Over a third of UK students are interested in studying abroad, new British Council research has found.

Studying at undergraduate level overseas has become particularly popular, with half of those considering a university course in another country wishing to study at that level - compared with 35 per cent a year ago.

The ‘Broadening Horizons 2015’ research based on a survey of almost 3000 UK students found overall, 34 per cent of all respondents to the survey said they were interested in some form of overseas study.

The research will be launched at the British Council’s annual Going Global conference for leaders of international education, on June 2nd in London.

At the conference, the British Council and the UK Higher Education International Unit will provide a comprehensive view of students’ own perspectives on the impact of outward mobility as part of a UK higher education, identify the barriers and suggest solutions to help policy makers and institutions identify positive messages of the benefits of mobility. The British Council, together with the UK Higher Education International Unit, is due to publish later this summer an in-depth analysis of what motivates students to go abroad and what universities can do to support more British students to go overseas, which will complement the findings of Broadening Horizons.

The Broadening Horizons research reveals that of the UK students who indicated an interest in overseas study, 69 per cent had not yet undertaken an overseas study experience. Although English speaking countries were still most appealing to British students, 42 per cent were interested in studying in non-Anglophone countries. Of the students who were interested in overseas study, 47 per cent stated they would want to study abroad for a one year period, followed by those who would select a full degree (26%) and then one term (14%).

49 per cent of students who were interested in overseas study said that the cost of UK university tuition played a role in their interest. When the same question was asked in 2014, 57 per cent stated it had.

Students who are interested in studying abroad in the future would most like to do so in Creative arts and design (14% of respondents selected this subject), Social studies (11%), Business and administrative studies (10%), Languages (including English) (9%) and the Biological sciences (8%).

When students who expressed interest in overseas study were asked what attitudinal statements they most identified with, the highest percentage stated they wanted to have fun traveling and exploring different cultures (48%), while almost one third said they wanted to work for an international company and live overseas (30%) and 15 per cent stated they wanted to go to the best university for the best education. Just seven per cent stated they would like to return home quickly after a study abroad experience.

Although the UK is established as the most popular destination for new international students, and hosted a total of 493,570[1] international students in 2013/14, in 2013/14 UK universities reported that just 28,640 students (22,100 of whom were UK domiciled) went abroad, although this is up from 18,105 the previous academic year. According to a 2013 CBI report, 55 per cent of UK employers were unhappy with UK graduates’ foreign language abilities and 47 per cent were disappointed in graduates’ cultural awareness.[2]

Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, said “This latest evidence confirms that a growing number of the UK’s students are recognising the huge value to be gained from international experience. Our universities play an important role in supporting those ambitions. The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages, and have wider international experience. The barriers, real and perceived, to British students going abroad are gradually diminishing, and the UK’s Strategy for Outward Mobility is a very positive step in the right direction. The government, sector and industry all need to unite behind a move like this this to ensure that our next generation has the best possible opportunities to succeed in the future”

Zainab Malik, Research Director of the British Council’s Education Intelligence service, and author of the Broadening Horizons research, said: “Our research shows the top perceived barriers to study abroad for UK students were costs and a lack of language skills. However, students we had surveyed who had already studied overseas said that, in retrospect, those concerns were not as substantial as they initially had thought. Their experience, coupled with accessible information, indicates that these barriers might be mitigated or even overcome.”

Vivienne Stern, Director of the UK HE International Unit said “We know the UK higher education sector is committed to increasing the numbers of UK students gaining international experience and we know that outward mobility is on the rise, however there is still more to be done. If we want to encourage our students to spend time abroad whilst at university we need to better understand their motivations and what dissuades many others from taking advantage of opportunities. The Broadening Horizons research and our own research with the British Council will support the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility and will provide universities with the intelligence they need to better understand students’ motivations and the barriers they face to going overseas which in turn will inform institutions’ future approaches to outward mobility.”

The most recent statistics from the European Union’s Erasmus programme, managed in the UK by the British Council, published for the first time at Going Global, revealed that in 2013/14, the final year of the Erasmus programme as a part of the Lifelong Learning programme, 15,566 UK students spent up to a year in another European country – 10,316 on a study placement, 5,250 on a work placement. This is a 6.8% growth year on year.

In 2013 the British Council launched its Generation UK China campaign, supported by the UK Government, which aims to boost the number of UK students studying and undertaking work experience in China. The number of UK students going to China for a study or work experience has grown from 6,491, in 2013, to 7,365, in 2014.

In 2014 the British Council launched its Generation UK India campaign, enabling UK students to gain work experience in India, and has received over 2500 applications for the initial 500 places. Students will begin travelling to India in the summer of 2015.

These latest reports to be launched at Going Global complement other recent research including the International Unit’s Gone International:mobile students and their outcomes’ report which outlines the employment and academic attainment outcomes of mobile students and compares these to non-mobile peers. These pieces of research together support the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility and will help inform the UK higher education sector and governments’ approaches to increasing outward student mobility.



[1] HESA data – includes EU and non-EU students, and study abroad students and ‘writing up/sabbatical students’

Notes to Editor

The new research will be launched on June 2 at Going Global 2015, the British Council’s annual conference for leaders of international education, at ‘Broadening Horizons: Improving Outward Mobility’

For more information please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, British Council or 07771 718 135 / 0207 389 4871

Erasmus data

The European Union’s Lifelong Learning programme ran from 2007-2013, and the British Council was appointed the UK’s National Agency to manage the scheme.

The Lifelong Learning programme has been replaced by the Erasmus+ programme. The British Council is still the UK’s National Agency for Erasmus+, in partnership with Ecorys UK.

For a more detailed breakdown of the final year statistics of the Erasmus programme, please contact Tim Sowula

UK students going overseas:

The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) recorded 24,655 ‘mobilities’ – periods of work or study by UK students overseas in 2013/14 academic year. 57% of mobilities in 2013/14 were within Europe and 43% were outside.

UNESCO reports that 27,968 UK students complete overseas study, primarily in the US, France, Ireland, Germany and Australia. According to the OECD, in 2011 37,491 students from the UK studied abroad for a minimum of one year.[3] Whilst statistics vary, international and national organisations concur that the outward mobility of UK students is increasing.

According to UNESCO, which tracks students studying abroad on degree programmes one year or longer, the top destination for UK students is the US, followed by France, Ireland, Germany and Australia.[4] While the top five countries of interest remain the same for undergraduate and postgraduate study abroad hopefuls, China is the number nine most desired country at the postgraduate level.

According to the ’Gone International’ research, 70 per cent of UK undergraduate student mobility takes place in Europe, with 25 per cent of students studying in France, 17 per cent in Spain and nine per cent in Germany; twelve per cent of UK students study in the US, making it the number three destination for undergraduate study abroad.

The Generation UK – China campaign is supported by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills; the Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland; and the Welsh Government.

Broadening Horizons 2015

The survey was administered and completed in March and April of 2015.  In the UK, in cooperation with the National Union of Students (NUS) and market research company Survey Sampling International (SSI), we received 2,856 completed responses by full-time, UK-domiciled students aged mostly between 16 and 30. 

Of the surveyed UK respondents, 34 per cent indicated they are interested in study abroad whilst 47 per cent stated they were not interested in an overseas study experience and 19 per cent said they had not made a concrete decision on the issue. Of those who are interested in study abroad, 31 per cent have already completed at least one study abroad experience. As just about two to five per cent of the UK higher education population is estimated to study abroad, the proportion of those interested in the experience is higher than those that actually do study overseas.

Of survey respondents who indicated they were interested in studying overseas, the most popular destination was:

Study abroad destinations

United States of America


















New Zealand


According to surveyed students, the most important factor in selecting a study abroad destination was wanting to experience living in that culture (61%) and wanting to travel to that country (55%). Respondents, who were allowed to select up to three considerations, also indicated that the ability to speak the country’s language (29%) was an important factor. Interestingly, more academic factors having to do with their degrees, courses and teaching methods were less common considerations indicating that UK students aspiring to study abroad largely equate the experience as a cultural one over an academic one. 

When asked about their concerns regarding overseas study, students in 2015 stated they were most concerned about their personal well-being, specifically access to quality healthcare (37%) and difficultly leaving their family (35%), and the financial burden (35%). Respondents were allowed to select up to three factors.

These concerns were shared by those who had and had not already participated in a study abroad experience alike but it is worth noting that the concern about costs may differ for these groups; for those who have not yet studied abroad, it is unclear if this refers to perceived or actual expenses whereas one can assume that for those who have studied abroad, it is referring to actual expenses.

When asked if the cost of UK university tuition played a role in their interest in overseas study, 49 per cent of respondents said it had. When the same question was asked in 2014, 57 per cent stated it had. This indicates that it may be a diminishing factor.

Of the 2,856 full-time students who completed the survey, 1,348 stated they were not interested in study abroad and an additional 545 indicated they had not made a decision regarding study abroad. These 1,873 students were surveyed about perceived barriers to studying overseas.

By far, the biggest academic deterrent to study abroad was the lack of foreign language skills, selected by 53 per cent of this group. Twenty-six per cent stated that they saw no academic deterrents to study abroad and smaller proportions of students felt barriers including the overseas degree not being recognised in their field (15%), the difficulty of the degree programme (15%), the inability to gain credit for their area of study (12%) and the length of overseas courses not fitting their needs (11%). Respondents were allowed to select up to three factors.

Almost half of this group (48%) stated that the top non-academic barrier to overseas study was the cost, followed by a lack of confidence in language skills (36%), access to quality healthcare (31%), feeling unsafe in another country (21%) and concerns regarding fitting into another culture (19%).  Only ten per cent stated that there were no non-academic deterrents and most of the seven per cent that chose ‘Other’ indicated they would not want to leave their families. Respondents were allowed to select up to three factors.

It is worth noting that the top non-academic deterrents to study abroad – cost, perceived risks to personal well-being, and lack of language skills - are similar to the concerns of those who are interested in study abroad, perhaps indicating that those who have studied or want to study overseas previously had the same reservations but reconciled them enough to pursue study abroad.

Students who were not interested in or undecided regarding overseas study were asked what may incentivise them to consider the experience. Respondents were allowed to select up to three factors.  By far, the most popular motivation would be help with funding (selected by 71 per cent), followed by foreign language training (40%).  Respondents would also value a period of mandatory overseas study as part of their course (33%) and information from overseas study alumni (30%) and teachers (25%).


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