UK students drawn to US for broad-based degrees

August 4, 2006

Unprecedented numbers of British teenagers are considering shunning UK universities for US colleges in the hope of a broader, cheaper and more luxurious education, writes Jessica Shepherd.

There were 700,000 inquiries from the UKabout studying at a US college at undergraduate and postgraduate level last year - more than three times as many as the year before.

The figures were released by The Fulbright Commission, which funds Britons to study at universities in the US.

It revealed that US colleges have become so popular among British students that an annual event promoting US universities is now held twice yearly.

College Day USA was held in London and, for the first time, in Edinburgh last October. More than 5,200 hopeful British "freshmen" attended, compared with just 900 three years ago.

The UK ranks 11th in terms of recruitment to US colleges, according to statistics compiled by the Institute of International Education for 2004-05. The UK has edged up one place for each of the past two years.

Anthony Nemecek, director of the Educational Advisory Service of The Fulbright Commission, said the US was popular because of youngsters'

unwillingness to specialise too early and because of the introduction of top-up fees in the UK.

He said: "Some undergraduates in the UK are not willing or not sure which course to do at university. They know that if they study a liberal arts degree in the US they do not have to specialise for several years.

"We are finding that more and more students in the UK are not ready to commit to such a narrow focus at such a young age. They know that in the working world very few of us are going to stay in one particular field and so they recognise that it is better to have a broader educational background.

"Tuition fees have also have played their part... As students are being asked to spend more on their education, they are becoming consumers and are looking for where they can get best value for money.

"Many US universities have the capability of assisting students who are economically disadvantaged through endowments and bursaries."

US universities are also seen by many to be more luxurious, and this could also account for the increase in interest.

Mr Nemecek said: "Because US universities are so competitive they have to be able to provide not just the best education possible, but the little extras too."

In the last academic year, 159 schools and colleges in the UK invited The Fulbright Commission's speakers to talk about studying in the US. In 2004-05, just 78 schools made the same request.

Stephen Baldock, former High Master of St Paul's School, is a strong advocate of US degrees. He said: "There is little doubt that the four years at an American college bring a fuller educational experience with greater cultural and social coherence, combined with outstanding athletic facilities, especially at colleges such as Stanford, Princeton or Duke where the campus is self-contained and focused."

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