Too few UK students are studying overseas, and it’s a problem

Ian Myson wants universities to internationalise their students in preparation for the working world

November 17, 2016
Globalisation
Source: iStock

This week is the British Council’s International Education Week, which promotes the benefits of international learning and cultural exchange.

The UK is a global hub for international students with more than 400,000 studying here last year. Yet British students travelling outside the UK to study is relatively rare, and this is a problem. Just 1.3 per cent of UK students travelled abroad to study or go on work placement in 2014-15.

For graduates to find jobs and succeed in today’s post-Brexit world, they need international and cross-cultural knowledge. It is also critical for the UK’s competitiveness in international markets that the next generation entering the workplace understands how to compete globally.

Employers expect graduates to appreciate cultural diversity, universal business language and be familiar with globalisation. However, in terms of having a global mindset, nearly a quarter of employers (24 per cent) have rated graduates as weak in this area. 

Many employers feel that the UK’s Generation Y (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) lacks the global mindset necessary for success in an interconnected world. Just one UK student studies abroad for every 15 international students in the UK, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and this may explain why more than half (55 per cent) are disappointed with their foreign language skills, as reported by the CBI.

According to employers, the UK education system is partly to blame. The three-year undergraduate system can be restrictive in comparison with European institutions that provide good opportunities for placements, work experience and international study. According to European Union Commission data, only 0.5 per cent of UK students qualified for Erasmus funding, well below Spain (1.9 per cent), France (1.4 per cent) and Belgium (1.5 per cent).

Higher education institutions in the UK could do more to make students more internationally focused. In the Chartered Management Institute’s (CMI) 21st Century Leaders report, 26 per cent of business schools reported that they have branch campuses abroad but only one institution actively uses this to enhance the career prospects of students from the UK.

All students, and especially business students, should be strongly encouraged to undergo a period of study or work abroad. Cross-cultural communication and awareness needs to be built more deeply into the UK curriculum to enhance both the student experience, individuals’ career prospects and the future growth of UK business.

Ian Myson is director of higher education partnerships at the Chartered Management Institute.

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