Overseas students shun bars for books

July 14, 2006

The academic reputation of a university is more important to foreign undergraduates than drinking or social clubs, finds Jessica Shepherd

Which of your students are more likely to be found in the library or bookshop than the bar and tend to graduate relatively debt-free?

The answer is international students, who came under scrutiny this week as the largest-ever survey of their lifestyles was published. It discovered that 52 per cent spend nothing on alcohol in an average week, compared with 24 per cent of UK-born students.

Those surveyed - 357 students from more than 20 universities - are keener on reading, using the internet and shopping than their British peers.

Just under half join a university club or society, compared with 62 per cent of UK-born students. They rate the entertainment provided by their university town or city as more important than the social life on campus.

But the academic reputation of a university is the deciding factor on where they apply.

Only 46 per cent said their houses and halls were "good" or "very good" and 33 per cent found university careers services helpful when looking for part-time work in term time.

Veronica King, vice-president for welfare of the National Union of Students, said: "This suggests that student support services aren't focused enough on international students' needs. This is an area the NUS has been working on in the international students campaign, and something we intend to push forward this year."

The poll also reveals that international students graduate relatively debt-free compared with their UK-born peers. Most expect to owe £2,600 compared with the £9,600 British student average.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "The UK is a leading player in international education, with universities and colleges offering students the opportunity to access world-class education and internationally recognised qualifications. We must make sure that the UK remains the destination of choice."

International students, who bring £1 billion in tuition fee income to the UK, are most likely to study business, information studies, engineering, languages or humanities.

English was not the mother tongue of more than four fifths of the students questioned. Some 37 per cent were from the European Union, while 60 per cent were from outside the EU and the rest were non-EU Europeans. Pollsters Ipsos Mori questioned the students in November 2005.

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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