Interest in study abroad declining among UK students

Just 18 per cent of undergraduates said they were interested in studying overseas

November 29, 2017
Source: iStock

The proportion of UK students that are interested in studying abroad has almost halved in the past two years, with financial concerns being one of the main barriers, according to new research from the British Council.

A survey of 1,033 UK-domiciled undergraduates found that just 18 per cent were interested in some form of overseas study, down from 34 per cent in 2015, while 70 per cent were not and 12 per cent remained unsure.

Just over half of respondents who were not interested in or unsure about studying abroad cited prohibitive costs as a non-academic barrier to studying abroad. Other deterrents included missing family and friends (41 per cent), being happy in the UK (39 per cent) and lack of confidence about speaking the local language (around 33 per cent).

The survey also found that the results of the European Union referendum has caused confusion among UK students regarding the ease of acceptance into and the costs of overseas programmes. 

Meanwhile, the main academic barrier for these students was the perception that the UK offers the highest quality education for their course (36 per cent).

However, 70 per cent of these respondents said help with funding would motivate them to study abroad, while just over half (54 per cent) said evidence that studying abroad improves job prospects would be an incentive.

Earlier this year, Universities UK International announced a new campaign aimed at doubling the proportion of UK students who spend time abroad to 13.2 per cent by 2020.

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The data used in the British Council study, Broadening horizons: addressing the needs of a new generation, were gathered in May 2017, in cooperation with the National Union of Students.

The survey also found that interest in studying abroad in the US has significantly declined.

While America is still the number one destination of choice for UK students that want to go abroad, the proportion of respondents that said they wanted to go to the US fell to 22 per cent, from 40 per cent in 2015.

The study said that this is “most likely a symptom of UK students’ reaction to the changing political context in the US”.

Canada is now the second most attractive destination, with 10 per cent of students choosing the country, up from 5 per cent in 2015, while Germany is third at 9 per cent (up from 6 per cent).

Zainab Malik, research director for Education Intelligence, the British Council’s global higher education research service, and author of the report, said the findings reflect the fact that “the UK’s place in an unpredictable global environment remains undefined, the pound sterling remains weak and political and economic shifts have left young people feeling lost and uncertain about their future”.

“As a result, messaging regarding the benefits of study abroad, particularly those related to employability, must take into account this unique set of circumstances in order to effectively incentivise students to take a risk and go overseas,” she said.

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