By Elizabeth Shepherd

24 April 2014 - 10:27

'37 per cent of UK respondents were considering studying overseas, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year.' Photo (c) Mat Wright
'37 per cent of UK respondents were considering studying overseas, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year.' Photo ©

Mat Wright

More UK students are considering studying overseas this year than last, but there are still factors holding them back. The British Council’s Elizabeth Shepherd summarises a report looking at the perceived barriers and changing attitudes to international study. The report, which draws on survey data from UK and US students, is published today.

With a significant number of the world’s top ten universities – three or four depending on your chosen source – and a considerable raft of excellent higher education institutions that span the length of the UK, along with access to world-class lecturers, teaching and sports facilities and the vital familiarity of their peers, why should UK students choose to study outside their home country?

How many UK students are considering study abroad?

The 2014 edition of the British Council’s ‘Broadening Horizons’ research series aims to understand what prevents UK and US students from taking up international study opportunities. Our research aim was to understand the barriers students face. Overall, the 2014 data show that 37 per cent of UK respondents were considering studying overseas, an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year.

What motivates UK students to study abroad?

So what has driven this increased interest from the UK? Students we spoke to as part of the study made the connection between studying overseas and experiencing other cultures, becoming more internationally aware and being able to adapt and work better in a team. They valued becoming a global citizen and perhaps learning or practising foreign language skills. They viewed studying overseas in a similar light to other travelling opportunities they had experienced.

What prevents UK students from studying abroad?

However, none of our interviewees equated studying outside the UK with an opportunity to access world-class institutions of teaching and learning — except for the United States (15 per cent). This was echoed in our quantitative data: only five per cent of UK respondents and three per cent of US respondents thought that an overseas study destination would give them access to a world-class education.

Domestic students entering higher education in the UK do so against the most challenging financial backdrop for decades. The post-recession employment market conditions for recent graduates are so competitive that, in December 2013, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that 47 per cent of UK graduates were in jobs that did not require a degree. Our 2014 data revealed that 57 per cent of UK respondents said the UK tuition fee increase had made them consider studying overseas. This represents a 30 per cent increase on 2013.

So why don’t UK students study overseas? Because in the past they haven’t had to. The idea of studying abroad has not been cultivated or given priority to grow. Students have access to some of the best higher education opportunities in the world, right here at home. Although many express the desire to travel and experience other cultures, they don’t connect international study with excellence in academic opportunities or a pathway to greater employability. However, domestic financial pressure may be encouraging students and their parents to get the most value for money from their education, and it’s positive that more students are recognising that an opportunity to study abroad is one way to increase their skills and employability.

What does the future hold?

By highlighting opportunities to access UK courses through transnational education programmes, and by pointing to the increased employability via recognition of skills gained from studying abroad, in 2015 we could see a further increase in the number of UK students considering international education. Analysis of our data suggests that the evolving UK higher education landscape at home and overseas is creating a demand for international study, one that is changing attitudes among students across the UK.

Download the report before the related discussion at our Going Global higher education conference in Miami on 30 April 2014.

You might also be interested in