Glamour, not strategy, drives students abroad

September 17, 2009

British students attracted to the idea of studying overseas are a privileged bunch who are looking for excitement, glamour and adventure, a new study suggests.

While research into international students studying in this country has found that many are highly "strategic" when it comes to decisions about overseas study, there has been little research on the motivations of UK students who choose to take their degree abroad.

Johanna Waters, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, and Rachel Brooks, a senior lecturer at the University of Surrey, interviewed 85 UK students who had either studied overseas or were considering it.

But far from students citing "employment opportunities" or the need to gain "positional advantage" in a tough job market, the academics were struck by an apparent absence of any strategy underpinning students' interest in studying abroad.

"The vast majority of individuals stressed 'excitement', 'glamour' and 'adventure'," the researchers write in the paper "Accidental achievers? International higher education, class reproduction and privilege in the experiences of UK students overseas", presented at the annual British Educational Research Association conference earlier this month.

One undergraduate quoted said: "I don't really see any of my education or academic studies as contributing to a final goal or career prospect ... It's purely to develop myself as a person."

In a report to the Government last year on the future of higher education, Sir Drummond Bone, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said Britain needed to start sending more students overseas, rather than simply expecting to pull international students in.

But Dr Waters and Dr Brooks conclude that UK students who go overseas for their education are "on the whole, a highly privileged group".

The majority of those interviewed had attended elite private secondary schools and had significant financial backing, according to the authors.

International education "does not seem to reflect the democratisation of access to higher education, but rather creates new forms of disparity", they say.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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