By Jenny Katzaros

13 October 2015 - 12:00

International study can play a significant role in nurturing an individual’s academic and professional potential.
'International study can play a significant role in nurturing academic and professional potential.' Photo ©

Julian Gerardo Camacho under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

Of all the Nobel laureates who have studied abroad, 38 per cent have studied in the UK, according to a new study. The British Council's Jenny Katzaros takes a look.

What do Kofi Anan, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, T.S. Eliot, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Desmond Tutu have in common?

First, they are all Nobel prize winners. These individuals have all been recognised for outstanding contributions in their fields, from championing human rights and pioneering medical research, to producing literary masterpieces and challenging scientific assumptions.

However, beyond their Nobel laureate status, these winners all have something else in common: they all studied abroad. British Council research published last week has revealed that, of the 860 individuals who received a Nobel prize between 1901 and 2014, 131 had studied at a university outside their home country for some or all of their higher education. This illustrates the significant role that international study can play in nurturing an individual’s academic and professional potential.

UK popular for 'mobile' Nobel laureates

The research further reveals that the UK is the most popular destination for mobile Nobel laureates, i.e., laureates who had studied abroad at undergraduate or postgraduate level - 38 per cent studied in the UK and 28 per cent in the US. The University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford stand out as the two UK universities that have hosted the highest number of international students who have gone on to win a Nobel Prize, with 18 and 11 students respectively. Other UK universities that have hosted mobile Nobel laureates include the London School of Economics, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Essex.

The continued attractiveness of the UK for today’s international students

The UK currently hosts roughly half a million international students and attracted more new international students than any other country in 2013/14. Home to several of the world’s top universities, the UK is no doubt an appealing place for prospective international students, but there are several other reasons.

The UK provides students with opportunities to understand and engage with people from different cultures. A number of Nobel laureates have credited their UK education with widening their world perspectives. Desmond Tutu studied at King’s College London in the 1960s, gaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology. He says that studying there 'opened up a whole new world', gave him access to books and the 'freedom to question and to debate'.

By drawing ambitious individuals together, UK universities continue to provide a forum for exchanging and creating ideas that have the potential to shape our global future.

Hopes for the future of UK international alumni

The British Council’s analysis draws attention to how studying abroad – and in the UK specifically – has put Nobel Prize winners in a strong position to go on to succeed in their own fields. With 500,000 current international students in the UK, many of these inspiring individuals will go on to achieve great things. More recent alumni are already having a major impact and, in large part, credit their success to their UK education.

Find out how studying in the UK has helped Mitch Robinson defend the human rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay:

Mitch was the USA winner in the 'professional achievement' category of the Education UK Alumni Award 2015.

The Education UK Alumni Awards 2016 honour the outstanding achievements of international alumni from ten countries, who can demonstrate how their UK education has contributed to their subsequent success. Apply or nominate someone for an award by 31 October 2015.

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