British students prefer to learn on home ground

March 24, 2006

British students are continuing to shun universities in other European countries, according to figures from the Europe-wide student exchange scheme.

Despite rising numbers of students from other European countries participating in exchanges under the European Commission's Erasmus programme, the numbers of UK students taking part have fallen once again.

Figures show a total of 144,037 students from all 25 European Union countries participating on exchanges in 2004-05, a 6.3 per cent increase on the previous year. In France, there was a rise from 20,981 to 21,561 and in Germany from 20,688 to 22,4. But in the UK numbers fell from 7,539 to 7,214. There was also a fall in the number of students coming to Britain from the rest of the EU -from 16,621 to 16,266.

The apparent insularity of British students has been suggested by falling UK participation rates for several years, but explanations for the fall vary.

John Reilly, director of UK Socrates-Erasmus, said: "Some people say it's the financial factor, in that students have part-time jobs, but then students in all countries have part-time jobs. Those in the new EU countries are certainly less well off financially than those in the UK, but their student exchanges rose by 36 per cent. Another suggestion is linguistic competence, or the lack of it."

But the main reason could be the lack of a "mobility culture" in the UK, Mr Reilly said. In Germany, students took it for granted that they would spend a year abroad. In Britain, students and educational institutions did not think that way and thus forfeited the chance to gain qualifications.

Julian Nicholds, vice-president, education, at the National Union of Students, said that an Erasmus year was a great opportunity to travel, to learn a language and to experience a different culture.

But he said: "It is unsurprising that low numbers of students take part in the Erasmus scheme, saddled as they are with high levels of debt. This is a lost opportunity for many students, particularly for those for whom speaking another language would improve their employment prospects."


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