Fees drive rise in UK students who want to study abroad

Would you want to study under the bright lights of the Big Apple? iwillbehomesoon, CC BY-NC-SA

A growing number of UK students are considering going abroad to study with a majority of them motivated in some part by the rise in university fees at home, according to new research on student mobility. At the same time, there has been a decline in the number of US students wanting to travel for their education.

The US remains the top destination for British students, while the UK is the first choice for US students. The most popular subjects for students from the UK to study abroad were business and administrative studies, while for US students it was medicine and dentistry.

The research, carried out by the British Council, found that 37% of the 2,630 18-24 year-olds UK students surveyed were considering studying overseas, an increase of 17% from a similar study in 2013. The US increased in popularity as the destination of choice for UK students, with 33% considering studying there, followed by Australia, France, Germany and Canada.

Of the students in the Broadening Horizons study who said they were considering studying abroad, 57% said that the new £9,000 tuition fee regime introduced in 2012 had inspired them to consider options outside the UK. This was a 30% increase on responses to the 2013 survey.

But there has also been a drop in how much of a deterrent cost was for UK students studying in another country. Instead, the biggest perceived put-off for students was knowing whether they would fit into a different culture, followed by whether their language skills were good enough, and then cost.

Colin Riordan, vice chancellor of the University of Cardiff, said that it was “excellent news” that there has been a 17% rise in UK students considering studying abroad, adding that it would bring long-term economic benefits to Britain.

Jo Beall, director of education and society at the British Council, said that while the increase was a success: “It’s also the case that it’s cheaper to study abroad.”

“The question is, whether we should see that as something to celebrate, that it is encouraging greater mobility, or if it is a risk and a threat to our own higher education sector.”

But getting data on the numbers of UK students who actually go on to pursue study abroad is difficult. Statistics from UNESCO put the number of UK students studying long-term abroad at 28,000. While, the number of students doing short-term Erasmus placements in 2012-13 was 14,607, putting the total at an estimated 35-45,000.

Money troubles

In the US, 44% of the 4,680 students surveyed by the British Council said they were considering studying abroad, a 12% decrease from 2013. The report suggested this decline could be caused by the uncertainty of the economic climate in the US, with students highly sensitive about the debts they may incur.

More of the US students surveyed by the British Council were under 16, reflected in the fact that 27% of respondents said they wanted to study abroad for secondary education, compared to 17% for undergraduate.

Research by the Institute of International Education (IIE), which runs the US Fulbright scholar programme, reported that there were 283,332 US students studying abroad in 2012-13, marking a small upward trend in numbers. In March 2014, the IIE launched an initiative called Generation Study Abroad, aiming to more than double the number to 600,000 in five years.

While the UK remained the most popular potential destination for US students in the British Council study – with 19% indicate an interest to study there – it has dropped slightly in popularity from 2013. The other top five favourite destinations were France, Italy, Spain and Australia.

However, the research found that there are still significant gaps in the information potential students in both the UK and US have available in order to make decisions. Many did not know, for example, that universities in their countries had partnerships or sometimes campuses to study at.

Riordan is chair of the UK Higher Education International Unit, which launched a strategy on outward mobility in December 2013 in collaboration with the government, trying to get students to study abroad for at least a month during their course. “The evidence shows that this benefits students in terms of their academic achievement and their employment prospects, and it’s likely to benefit the UK economy in the longer term.”

“Those who wish to study for their whole degree abroad, having considered the options in the UK, should not be discouraged from doing so. UK universities remain very competitive internationally, and it is in all our interests that graduates from the UK should be as internationallly experienced as possible.”

Beall said it was clear from the fact that the US and Australia remain high on the list of destinations, that many UK students are still foreign-language phobic. “I think the challenge for us in the UK is to encourage students to be more adventurous, to engage with emerging economies and those kinds of cultures and language systems,” she said.

“It’s important for the students themselves if they’re going to be globally competitive. International organisations recruit as much from Brazil, India and China as they [do] from traditional sources of graduates.”

“If you’re going to compete, you have to be out there and understand those parts of the world.”