The study abroad movement in the UK is growing, each year more and more UK students look at their options abroad; careers advisers are commenting on the increasing number of study abroad enquiries they receive, the number of students registering for study abroad events like the annual Study in the USA College day organised by the Fulbright commission have doubled in recent years. Furthermore, universities like the University of Groningen in The Netherlands have doubled the amount of UK students they have enrolled in the last two years. Something is going on, but what?
First and foremost, this generation have grew up in a connected world. The idea of going abroad is no longer filled with trepidation. Students are aware of the ever growing need to diversify their CV and they understand the need to gain some form of international experience before they get to the jobs market - studying abroad is an easy solution to gain international experience in a purposeful way. The idea of going abroad to just sit back and roam around has no structure, it has no real purpose, it lacks meaning, and invariably fails to present itself in a positive light on one’s CV.
In the press we have seen a plethora of articles all questioning the UK student experience. Just last summer education editor Javier Espinoza from The Telegraph published “Easy degrees are fuelling drunken laddish behaviour”. The article draws upon what Dr William Richardson, general secretary, of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ conference (HMC) has said ‘low contact hours and less demanding timetables in humanities and social sciences compared to other degrees result in Students drinking to entertain themselves
Dr Richardson also said that there was an “unreasonable expectation of entitlement” to a degree from students with very little work to do in the first semester. It’s widely accepted that the first year is a relaxed one, with students told that all they need to progress through to the second year is a pass. This lack of structure seems to be having some form of impact on the student culture and experience. Has this unreasonable expectation of entitlement arose from the pressure placed on students on A Levels? Are they just letting off some steam?
Last summer the National Union of Students (NUS) said that universities are failing to tackle sexiest and homphobic “lad culture”. Suggesting that policies to tackle the issue are lacking in almost half of UK universities. The full article can be found here.
In June of this year the BBC published an article looking at the results from national student survey carried out by ComRes, which confirmed that four in ten students said university is not good value for money. The hike in tuition fees can potentially explain the heightened awareness of what students get from their course and the university - when tuition fees were trebled back in 2012 the relationship between student and university changed.
The attention paid to the issues of the UK’s higher education system in the media have been noted in parliament too. Jo Johnstone, Minister for Universities and Science talked about student admission and the student experience in his green paper looking at the British University system. Whilst he talks of the positives of the UK system, he also draws upon and confirms some of the media’s concerns around the quality of education in the UK which is in turn affecting the student experience. I am sure his paper will make a mark and shape future policy around student engagement and the UK Student experience, but the future of HE in the UK remains to be seen.
Whilst all this goes on and the desire to study abroad grows in the UK, students are bound to have more and more conversations with their careers advisers, teachers and parents about higher education abroad.
So what is different about studying abroad?
Students can get a rounded education which pays attention to both personal and professional development. Popular study destinations like Denmark, Canada and the USA consider whole person development as an integral part of the student experience. At an American College, students can expect a full programme of activities including study and extra-curricular activities. Because employers want to see students with more than just a qualification it can be hugely beneficial for students to go to an institution which offers more than a class timetable of 8 hours per week.
Students get to immerse themselves in a new culture. Having an early experience of a different culture can shape both personal and professional development. On a professional level, having a culturally rich experience can be helpful in the world of world and look favourably on one’s CV. The Association of Graduate recruiters said that employers now expect to see international experience on the CVs of graduates back in 2013.
Students can get better value for money. In the USA tuition is considerably higher, but will vary with each institution. It is widely accepted that tuition will start at $7000 upwards with no cap. However, most American colleges will have some form of scholarship money available to support students. Eligibility will vary depending on the academic and/or sporting ability of students. Whilst tuition is higher in the states, it is widely accepted that students get more for their money. This is in part because there is less government control and greater autonomy on colleges and universities to deliver excellence. Some would argue that there is far too much
Whilst this blog has looked at some of the more recent negative media comments we should remember that there are some excellent features of a UK education and some examples of excellent practise of HE institutions delivering outstanding degree programmes. However, as media attention focuses in on the UK education experience and international universities develop their presence in the UK, we must make an effort to understand what’s going on and how we can best support student decision making. Given that we are preparing students for employment in the global economy we must consider how their education based in the UK or overseas prepares them for the unpredictable future which lies ahead.
International Education Week in the UK is a platform in which UK students can connect with universities overseas. We lead the offical campaign for International Education in the UK through a live and informative campaign throughout the academic year and finish off with a round of International Education Shows in Birmingham and Leeds. Watch out for more information on our events through our Facebook page here.