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.