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UK: Funding perceived as biggest barrier to study abroad

Funding is the most common barrier to outward mobility among students in the UK, according to a study carried out by the UK HE International Unit and British Council.

Employability and personal growth were among the motivators for students to considering studying abroad. Photo: South Lanarkshire College.

Almost 85% of students said they would need external funding to cover 75% of study abroad costs

Like other study destinations, the UK is increasing its focus on boosting mobile students, which currently account for just 1.2% of all undergraduates. These findings are based on an online survey of 2,842 undergraduate students in 37 institutions and focus groups in eight of these institutions.

When asked to hypothetically state how much funding they would need to secure from an external source in order to study abroad– not including student loans– almost 85% of students said they would need to find funding for 75% of the total cost.

Funding was seen as a particularly significant issue for students going on very short courses (less than six weeks)

Funding was seen as a particularly significant issue for students going on very short courses (less than six weeks) whereas among students studying medium-length courses through traditional schemes, like Erasmus, concern was lower.

“Although funding might be relatively easier to acquire in these established schemes than for very short mobility, there was an indication that very short study periods could be preferable for very cost-sensitive students,” the report stated, highlighting a need to extend support and information to nontraditional study abroad students.

It added that students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to be less confident when making their decision and urges institutions to extend further help in convincing parents of the value of a mobility experience to gain their support.

The findings also suggest a misconception of the cost of going overseas showing that more students only considering mobility saw insufficient funding as a barrier than the students who were actually waiting to go abraod.

The report argues, however, that “it’s an open question as to how transparent this [course costs] should be made, since highlighting financial aspects could create a barrier for some students”.

Beyond funding, personal factors topped the list of perceived barriers to mobility for the surveyed students. Fear of isolation and interruption to friendships were the most common.

Still most students who had been mobile said the experience had a strong impact on personal, academic and career development. Almost all mobile students (95%) said the experience increased their interest in future study abroad.

“This is essentially an endorsement from over 95% of mobile UK respondents that their mobility experience had been a positive one, and/or that they recognised positive benefit from it,” said the report.

Improved general employability was the most influential external motivator

Among all students– those who had been abroad already and those who hadn’t– personal factors, like broadening their horizons, were cited asmotivators for study overseas.

Meanwhile, improved general employability was the most influential external motivator, ranked as important or very important by 90% of survey respondents.

International Unit representatives said the study is the most complete picture so far of UK outbound mobility and is meant to inform HEIs as well as policy makers when developing outward looking programmes.

“The UK HE sector wants to increase the number of UK-domiciled students who have an international experience whilst at university,” said Vivienne Stern, director of the International Unit.

“In order to do this we need to better understand what motivates them to go abroad, what they perceive to be the barriers as well as the perceived impact on their personal, academic and career development.”

Other top student recipient countries have placed increasing outbound students both by volume and diversity. Last year the Canadian Bureau of International Education called on government to “mobilise a critical mass of our next generation” saying immobile domestic students are the “Achilles’ heel in Canada’s aspirations for greater global engagement and competitiveness”.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Institute of International Education has recently extended its Generation Study Abroad campaign to K-12 schools and this spring Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan said the State Department would open a new branch dedicated to study abroad.

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4 Responses to UK: Funding perceived as biggest barrier to study abroad

  1. Germany has a long tradition of sending students abroad, but also of welcoming students from the UK and around the world, both at UG and PG level. Study abroad students can choose from a large variety of English-taught courses at German HE institutions, particularly at PG level. These courses, which comprise an international as well as German student body, are mostly non-fee charging, hence won’t contribute to any further financial burden. Although the article does not mention language issues, we are concerned about the declining interest in learning German and other foreign languages at school and – at least at degree level – at many UK universities. This is bound to deter students from gaining overseas study experience in the long run. However, for those who are looking at Germany as a possible destination, general information on study and research in Germany as well as information on individual funding programmes (mainly at PG level), is available from the DAAD London Office.

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