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US students spend €200 million in Spain while studying

US students studying abroad in Spain contribute more than €200 million to the national economy through local transportation, mobile phones, travel and cultural activities, according to the Association of North American Programs in Spain (APUNE).

Photo: Kristie RaePhoto: Kristie Rae

Knock-on effects of students who return to the country as tourists and the social return on investment to host communities should also be the focus of future research

Due to differences in payment schemes between Spanish and US universities, researchers didn’t include the cost of tuition or facility rental in its Economic Impact of Study Abroad, Spain report – meaning that the real financial contribution US students make in Spain is much higher.

Spain is the third most popular study destination for US students behind the UK and Italy. Students typically spend anywhere from four to 16 weeks on courses organised by private providers or through satellite campuses of US universities.

The calculations could be applied to students from other countries including the 40,000 Erasmus students

Because tuition fees aren’t included in the figures, researchers argue that the calculations could be applied to students from other countries including the 40,000 Erasmus students who make Spain the programme’s most popular destination country.

This is the third study of its kind carried out by Spain Education Programs (SEP) in collaboration with APUNE, which previously calculated the economic impact at €140m in 2009.

Of the current estimation, the study says: “While still a minimal part of the country’s gross domestic product, worth approximately €1, 045 billion in 2013, it is nonetheless a significant amount.”

However researchers say there is still insufficient data to accurately measure the economic impact of US study abroad programmes in Spain.

“A lack of accurate data on the financial volume of these programmes hinders stakeholders’ awareness on their benefits to the Spanish economy and the country’s society,” the report warns.

Cristina Grassett, Director of SEP, said because of the data deficiency, the study takes a conservative approach to student spending. “We’ve never seen this as an exact figure it’s just an estimate.”

To itemise spending, researchers took a sample of 20 semester and summer programmes listed on Studyabroad.com, Goabroad.com and GoOverseas.com and assessed items and services typically provided by US programmes in Spain including local cultural activities, excursions and room & board.

A survey of 18 programme directors who are members of APUNE was taken in order to calculate the costs of items and services. For a four-month semester course, it was estimated that students pay on average €3,800 while a five-week summer session cost students €1,200. Total programme costs including eight-week courses came to €118m.

Mobile phones, nightlife and international travel contribute an additional €57m to the country with each student spending some €550 per month on items and services not included in their programme fees.

Personnel costs (which assumes there are 13 students for every one staff member) reach €14m for an academic year.

Grasset is confident in the research methods of the study but said there needs to be more input from the people working in the field.

“Intercultural competence isn’t just developed in students but also in communities that host the students”

“I’d like to increase the number of programme respondents and I like to have data about the facilities the programmes use- if you receive students in Spain you need to have an office and sometimes classrooms,” she said.

“It’s more realistic to measure those costs than tuition fees which are very complicated because of the variety of agreements between universities.”

Knock-on effects of students who return to the country as tourists and the social return on investment to host communities should also be the focus of future research said Grasset.

“Right now there’s a trend in the field to look at the intercultural development of the students,” she commented. “But this competence isn’t just developed in students but also in communities that host the students.

“It’d be interesting to use the IDI [intercutural development inventory] to test the students’ host families before the student arrives and after four months – how their concept of the US has changed.”

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