By Zainab Malik

29 November 2017 - 09:00

Woman standing on a train platform as a train arrives
'In the long term, people can often pinpoint the study abroad experience as the catalyst for their career direction.' Photo ©

Eutah Mizushima, used under licence and adapted from the original

The new 'Broadening Horizons' report surveyed UK students about their study-abroad aspirations. Zainab Malik, the author, breaks down the results. 

What motivates young people to study in another country?

Motivators for studying abroad vary from one young person to the next, but there are two that consistently emerge – quality and employability.

There are other factors at play, however, and their importance varies as you explore different types of study abroad. Those interested in a full degree abroad may be more concerned with national immigration policies that would allow them to work locally. At the same time, those enrolling in language programmes may want to ensure they will be fully immersed in the dialect.

Travel and the pursuit of once-in-a-lifetime adventures are historically the main motivation for studying abroad, in the case of UK student outward mobility. While this is still the case, the Broadening Horizons 2017 data shows that there may be more to the story. Today’s students are trying to find their footing in a volatile global environment and need the security of knowing that the experience will be worthwhile (and worth the money). Evidence that study abroad can lead to better academic performance and increased employability would help motivate a greater number to study abroad.

What practical factors, such as cost, do UK students think about when considering studying outside of their countries?

In general, students are savvy and remarkably practical when it comes to the decision to go overseas, be it for short- or long-term study. It is common for them to calculate if the real costs – such as the financial burden, the time spent on the course, lengthy travel and personal safety – are worth the potential benefits. This year, students notably emphasised the sacrifice they felt leaving behind their lives in the UK. They wanted to be close to family and friends, where they felt safe. That said, students and their parents are often happy to take on such costs to gain access to desirable skills, networks, career prospects, language practice and culture… to name a few.

How does studying abroad benefit individual students, long- and short-term?

In 2016, the Broadening Horizons series examined the immediate impact of outward mobility on UK students. We found that the experience raised students’ global consciousness and social awareness, as well as their professional and personal development. Students reported broader career prospects and increased confidence and empathy.

In the long term, people can often pinpoint the study abroad experience as the catalyst for their career direction. Research on the lasting effects of outward mobility is growing, and there is evidence that the experience is linked with everything from higher marks and graduation rates to better salaries.

What are the benefits to wider society?

By studying abroad, students are creating links for the future in politics and international relations. The British Council has found that ten per cent of world leaders as well as a multitude of other industry leaders have studied in the UK. Many of these alumni capitalised on the relationships they built in the UK to establish and grow their businesses.

Are there any new barriers emerging for UK young people wishing to study abroad? 

The obstacles stay fairly consistent – financial costs, lack of confidence in local language, lack of information, lack of recognition of courses, and time commitment are a few.

Students are however taking some barriers more seriously given the current global context. For example, UK students in 2017 were much more likely to express contentment with their lives in the UK and a desire to not be far away from loved ones. Personal safety was also emphasised more than in past years. Young people are also trying to understand their views towards outward mobility in light of the EU referendum. Interestingly, students were not influenced directly by the issue in one way or another. Rather, the results have led to questions about the accessibility of international programmes to UK students.

Have you seen any trends in which UK students are most or least likely to study abroad?

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 95 per cent of UK outward mobility is done at the undergraduate level. These students are mostly interested in one term or one year abroad, even though a common barrier was the time away from the UK, which they thought would lead to a later graduation date. Women are historically more likely to study abroad, while men are more likely to do so for non-language courses.

According to Universities UK International, there are some groups that have lower rates of participation in mobility. These include ethnic minority students, those with disabilities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

What should a young person wishing to study abroad think about while making their decision?

Be well and fully educated on overseas study before making a decision. General information about programmes as well as their costs and benefits is available, but young people must look at the specifics that are most particular to them. Most students will do a cost-benefit analysis of study abroad and they cannot do this well unless they research it well. The burden of this also falls on the institution, which is responsible for properly tailoring information for students on their options.

Students should also work backwards – map out where they want to be in five or ten years and look at the steps they need to take to get there, potentially looking at others who have accomplished similar things. What skills will they need to learn? What languages? What contacts will they need to make? Can study abroad help with these issues? The answer is most likely yes.

Read the report Broadening Horizons 2017: Addressing the needs of a new generation.

You might also be interested in: