Tag Archives: International Student Mobility

England is the most expensive place to be an undergraduate student

The OECD’s report into education has revealed what we have always known to be true: the introduction of £9,000pa tuition fees makes England the most expensive place on average to get a bachelor’s degree in the OECD nations.

This might seem ridiculous particularly bearing in mind US tuition fees but there are two important points to consider that mean the OECD is absolutely correct:

  1. Fees for international students are usually higher. This means that an English student going to the USA, Canada or Australia is likely to pay much more than £9k a year but domestic students in these countries usually pay considerably less.
  2. In countries where there are tuition fees, these are usually variable. English tuition fees are also technically variable but this distinction has been lost in practice on both recent occasions when fees have been hiked, first to max. £3k and then to max. £9k. English universities wasted little time in going to the maximum available level irregardless of whether this reflects the cost of a university degree (a famously unknowable number); the perceived impact on quality has meant that no university wishes to develop a reputation for being cheap. This has led to the bizarre situation where every degree more or less has the same price tag for domestic students (variations for international students might suggest that there is at least some element of cross-subsidy going on). The USA is undoubtedly much more expensive than England for many students. Their private universities can charge up to $60k per year. However, most importantly, there is choice in the USA. As a domestic student you can go to a local community college followed by an in-state university and gain a Bachelor’s degree for a lot less than £9,000 per year. The majority of US students will never get anywhere near the most expensive universities and those that do, usually have an efficient system of financial aid to mitigate the cost. It is this choice that is largely missing from the English system. Provision within FE colleges or at private universities is usually at a lower tuition fee. In the case of private HE this is largely because student loans for tuition are only available up to £6k a year. Should that cap be lifted I think we can be reasonably certain what would happen…

In conclusion, while the OECD’s conclusion might seem baffling at first, we would have to agree, England is now the most expensive country on earth to be an undergraduate and it is only likely to get worse.

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Why do British Students actually go abroad for their Bachelor’s degree?

Following the recent publication of the British Council’s third annual Broadening Horizons survey of UK and US students’ attitude to international higher education, we thought we would take a look at what British students who are actually abroad say about their decision.

Surveys of this type usually end up focusing on those who have expressed an interest in going abroad but may not end up going (a problem we face with our main annual survey), or they concentrate on students who have typically taken their third year abroad and are thus full of language students to the detriment of other voices.

In response to this we decided to summarise the reasons British students go abroad as communicated to us in the testimonials on our websites. This means the results do not follow any standard survey methodology but we feel they are highly illuminating when finding out why typical British students choose to study abroad for their full degree. It is our belief that these reasons, while certainly similar to those evinced by the British Council’s and others’ research, perhaps offer a more truthful picture of when full degree mobility is the appropriate response to the question of “Where should I go to university?”

With the main decision-making period for 2016 applicants just ahead of us, we hope that this snapshot will present useful information for any students wishing to follow in their footsteps.

About the survey

The survey is based on 40 testimonials gathered during the academic years 2013/14 and 2014/15. The majority of testimonials were completed by students during their first year at university. Around ¾ of respondents were at Dutch universities with the rest studying in France, Norway, USA, Singapore, Spain and Italy.

All respondents are in the process of completing their 3 or 4-year Bachelor’s degree at an international university. None of them is a languages student although many will be learning a new language as part of their studies. We have also ignored medical and dental students in this sampling because they typically reveal very different reasons for studying abroad, almost always connected with supply and demand and entry requirements.

We have paraphrased responses based on the answer to the question “Why did you choose to study abroad?” Students were given completed freedom to tell us whatever they felt was of importance and we made no further attempt to steer their responses. We will link to perhaps the best examples on our website to give further illustration.

 

The reasons British students give for studying abroad

“I want to explore new cultures.”

A sense of adventure drives 50% of our respondents to seek out education abroad. This result is almost identical to the findings of the British Council. There is no denying that an adventurous mind set is almost a prerequisite for studying abroad.

“It’s about money.”

40% of respondents mentioned financial considerations, mostly in terms of being cheaper to study abroad. Some were more motivated by the fear of student debt. Most respondents mentioned money as a secondary consideration eg. “…and it doesn’t hurt that it is also so much cheaper!”

“I already have international experience and want more.”

The 28% of respondents who mentioned this fall into three categories:

  • Dual Nationals or “British-In-Nationality-Only”
  • Brits whose families have lived abroad in the past
  • Recent GAP year returnees suddenly less keen on three years at a UK university

“Education abroad is of a higher quality.”

25% of students mentioned this but only 7.5% explicitly referred to rankings and league table positions. It is unclear how they arrive at such judgements but they are generally satisfied with their choice.

“The UK doesn’t offer the course content I want.”

20% of respondents believe that the course they want to study is offered better abroad. This is most often the case for law and business students who perceive an automatic benefit to cross-border knowledge. Liberal Arts and Sciences students also express this view.

Funnily enough, this reason doesn’t show up in any British Council research.

“The style of education on offer suits me better.”

Most often students refer to:

  • smaller class sizes,
  • better relationships with their tutors and lecturers,
  • more practical approaches to demonstrating learning.

“I want to learn in an international classroom.”

18% of respondents see the presence of students from all nationalities in the classroom as a major benefit. This suggests students are keen to engage with more than just the culture of their new home country.

“I want to stand out from the crowd when it comes to getting a job.”

It is perhaps unsurprising that this appears as a reason for going abroad, particularly when it is often presented as the strongest, rational reason for taking this step. Only 18% of respondents care enough to mention it once they are abroad, however.

“I have the option for further study abroad.”

15% of respondents see value in the ability to take part in an exchange and/or work placement in a third or even fourth country as part of their degree. One respondent in particular mentioned the flexibility to both study abroad and do an exchange as the main reason for not choosing a British university degree.

“I will become more independent and mature.”

10% of respondents mentioned the possibility for personal growth as result of studying abroad.

Other reasons given

 

We hope that this survey gives a good overview of why students actually go abroad. These students are typical of the growing number of British students who are at universities overseas. They have had to overcome the same obstacles that most international students encounter, specifically those relating to language, finance and the availability of accurate, impartial advice.

There is nothing special or different about internationally mobile students. We firmly believe that this is an opportunity for everyone. We hope that the reasons outlined above will help students decide for themselves if this is something they wish to pursue. Further, we hope that it will assist guidance professionals in identifying when studying abroad might be the right choice for a particular individual.

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The pros and cons of applying to international universities through Ucas.

Firstly, I have to say that any step to make international higher education as normal and as accessible as British university options is to be applauded. Since founding A Star Future in 2006 this has been my one overriding ambition so I will take help in achieving this goal wherever I can get it.

Having said that, the idea of applying to international universities through Ucas has been around for a few years now, predating even the increase in UK tuition fees. Many of the advantages and disadvantages of facilitating applications through Ucas are well-rehearsed hypotheses; it now seems that we might get the chance to find out for real how it will work.

It is difficult to know at this stage exactly what will be a pro and a con so I have listed all of the considerations I can think of and will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

  1. Ucas reserves the right to choose which universities are the right quality. Does it have this power in the UK? While there are good reasons for assessing financial stability of Higher Education Institutions as well as credential recognition, is it really Ucas’s place to pass judgement on this? This will naturally have a limiting effect on the range of universities abroad that might be willing to submit themselves to this vetting. At this moment in time there are possibly only two public universities in Europe (except Ireland) that could sensibly be considered candidates and one of these, Maastricht University, has already ruled itself out for now. We recently published a report on the Top 50 European Universities and the opportunities that actually exist in English at Bachelor’s level. There are roughly 100 suitable degrees and almost one quarter of these are found at University of Groningen, perhaps the only likely international addition to Ucas at this time. You can download a copy of the report from the advisors area of the A Star Future website.
  2. By allowing admissions via the Ucas process international universities will dramatically increase the visibility of their Bachelor’s degrees in the UK. We try our best to make British students aware of international opportunities but our reach is somewhat limited in comparison with that of Ucas. The publicity benefits alone might make it worthwhile for international universities to include themselves. It is worth noting that Maastricht University plans to make use of Ucas’s marketing services rather than application services, utilising data harvested from UK university applicants to promote international higher education. This is nothing new, however.
  3. While presenting international opportunities alongside British ones might give applicants a better overview of the options in other countries in their subjects, it will be extremely difficult to provide meaningful comparative data about them. Key Information Sets are not a standardised component of the data international universities provide to applicants. Where they do exist, such as in the Netherlands, they cannot really provide direct comparisons with UK data particularly in areas such as graduate employability rates and student satisfaction. This is easier in the case of measures such as staff/student ratios, contact hours etc. and might be quite illuminating for British students.
  4. Applying through Ucas will make it easier for British students apply to international universities although it remains to be seen whether other country-specific application requirements would remain in place. Using Ucas might give students an overly simplified impression of the ease of studying abroad. We regularly deal with students encountering difficulties with international admission systems. While this can be frustrating and some systems appear counter-intuitive for British applicants and their advisors, it does serve as a useful introduction to the fact that things are different in other countries. If you can’t cope with the vagaries of a university’s entry processes is it really a good idea to commit to studying there for at least three years?
  5. When applying to a British university it is ordinarily essential to do so via Ucas. In other countries it will be very difficult to shut down direct applications so students could theoretically be rejected through Ucas and still have the chance to apply again for the same course at the same university. Given that many courses at universities abroad have relatively low A’ level entry requirements (even the very best universities can occasionally make offers to students students with EEE and in many countries unconditional offers are the norm) will anyone who applies through Ucas automatically be given an unconditional offer? If this becomes widespread it could have a distorting effect on UK students’ application strategies. This is becoming less of an issue as more English-taught courses employ some kind of additional selection criteria but this is not true for all courses in Europe at this time.
  6. Students are already notorious for not researching their fifth choice in Ucas. Some might be tempted to include an international choice without properly investigating the implications. We already have examples every year of students who only realise that Student Finance England support is not available to them after they have enrolled at university abroad and this is in spite of the fact that both our websites explicitly state this. Will Ucas be able to give students an accurate picture of the financial reality in a way that British students will actually take notice of? In some cases it wouldn’t surprise me if students select a course abroad without realising this is what they have done simply because they will be attracted by the headline tuition fees.
  7. Currently it is possible for students to accept offers from two universities in the UK (firm and insurance choice) and as many as they like from universities in other countries. This won’t change if students apply directly to international universities. However, if they apply through Ucas will accepting an international offer take up one of their two choices? If so, they might wish not to apply through Ucas in order to take maximum advantage of the additional choice international universities can offer.
  8. If students do use international universities primarily as an insurance offer because of the likelihood of receiving a lower offer this could generate a huge amount of acceptances but a much worse conversion rate than British universities would expect. There are further complications involved with students treating universities abroad as an insurance choice. Studies at many European universities can start as early as the first week of September leaving only two weeks between results day and the start of life abroad. If you are looking at a popular student city, this lack of preparation is likely to have serious consequences in terms of finding accommodation and settling in. We would strongly discourage speculative applications to international universities based on superficially attractive considerations such as lower tuition fees and easier entrance requirements. Making it easier for British students to apply to international universities might give those universities cause to be careful what they wish for.

At present it seems the only international higher education institution that has actually been granted permission to list its Bachelor’s degrees in Ucas is a private fashion school in Amsterdam offering a degree accredited by Bucks New University at a first year tuition fee of €15,600. While I am not in a position to judge this institution in any way, it does rather contradict the arguments laid out in most news articles that have been published recently about this development.

It is obviously necessary to reserve judgement on the success or otherwise of this development. By allowing international universities into Ucas it may be that the greater long term impact is on students from outside the UK being able to apply to British and other universities at the same time. I could certainly envisage a scenario where international universities are attracted to Ucas because it might bring them international students who were previously only considering UK destinations. British universities might not be delighted by such a development.

A final concluding thought: If Ucas is looking at ways of expanding internationally might it not be best off employing its undoubted expertise to improve other admissions systems in other countries? Studielink in the Netherlands, for one, could perhaps learn a thing or two.

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What is the Point of 50% Targets for International Student Mobility?

 

Many policy initiatives in the area of international higher education aim to achieve outbound mobility for 50% of all students. The German government has announced a target of 50% of its local students to take part in international education and here in the UK, many universities have announced similar targets, most notably De Montfort University. While it is encouraging to note that such initiatives are usually backed by additional financial support for students (or an acknowledgment that it will be necessary to achieve their goals) there are still a number of problems involved in aiming for such an arbitrary target.

Firstly, what constitutes international experience and is it meaningful in an educational context? To reach this target it will be natural to include all manner of international experience; DMU mentions anything from a four-week language course upwards. While there is almost certainly a benefit to any prolonged period of time abroad, is it sensible to think that this will lead to a greater appreciation of life in another country or indeed anything beyond a cursory evaluation of another culture? The same argument can also apply to a full academic year abroad if it does not allow students to integrate fully into the life of a host university or company, in the case of work experience. For an individual university there is also the issue of managing sufficient partnerships to avoid recreating its own classrooms on foreign soil. In the case of DMU the ultimate plan is to send 11,000 students abroad; this will require a huge number of institutional partners. These arguments are well-known and well-rehearsed amongst professionals in the field of international higher education so does this mean that within every 50% target there is a tacit agreement about how much should be made up of students who go for a full year or more, or those who go for less than a month and how many should go to any one partner university at any one time?

Also, those students who go fully international for their education do not tend to show up in any recorded statistics and can fall between the cracks if they are not registered with an educational institution in their own country and/or receiving government financial support. It could therefore be that the amount of students internationally mobile lies somewhere between 0 and 100% of young people not in domestic higher education or otherwise accounted for.

Secondly, why 50%? Which half of the student population would not benefit from international higher education or couldn’t be persuaded to spend some time abroad? The poorest? The most male?

We spend a huge amount of time advising young people in the United Kingdom on the possibility of studying abroad for all or part of their undergraduate study. While there is undoubtedly a growth in interest and willingness to consider studying abroad I doubt we could say that 50% of young people are enthused by this possibility. Would it not be better to focus on those students who are actually interested in going abroad and providing them with suitable options and/or financial support? A 50% target can only be the result of a governmental or institutional perspective, one that is prescriptive in its attitude to students’ needs. If international higher education is a genuinely good thing, and I firmly believe it is, shouldn’t we just be focussing on helping those students who show an interest rather than shoehorning as many people as necessary into meeting an arbitrary target? If higher education wishes to address an issue relating to international student mobility wouldn’t it be better to target this:

UniSouthDenmark @UniSouthDenmark:
Why this difference? Females account for 63.5% of all people who study abroad while males 36.5%

230614 Uni of Denmark stat

 

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