To many people, studying abroad sounds like a dream. Spending a few months or years in a far-off country to gain a qualification while at the same time, learning a foreign language or soaking up the culture is an aspiration many, young and old, wish they could fulfill.
Apparently, this select group of people does not include the Brits.
While hundreds of thousands continue to travel the world to enrol at a British university, the same can’t be said for the outward mobility trends seen among British students.
Only a fraction venture outside the country to seek foreign studies. In 2012, UNESCO data found that only 33,000 Brits chose to study abroad for their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. This compares to 202,050 international students who came to the UK that year – and that’s just from the top 10 non-EU sending countries.
The question that arises then is why?
A report by the British Council titled Broadening Horizons sheds light on the unique priorities and concerns among the current generation of British students.
Here are their top four reasons for not wanting to leave the country:
British students are set back by the financial toll and the extra debt that strikes after studying abroad. The report found that both tuition and living costs have the “largest negative impact” on their decision-making process.
One respondent said “I feel like you have to have a lot of money to be able to do it,” while another said “‘A year abroad … would lengthen my degree by a year meaning I would have a year’s extra debt
and [would be] a year delayed in starting a career, for a year which does not contribute toward my
The same group said, however, should they be able to access loans and scholarships, they would be greatly motivated to pursue their studies overseas.
Distance from the UK as well as family and friends
This is the second most-cited reason for not wanting to leave the UK. They worry over lack of access to family in case of an emergency and the resulting issues this may cause.
One student said: “If something were to go wrong, say I was in an accident of some sort, whilst I was abroad it could take a day or more for my family to get to me considering factors such as transportation and timing. However, if the same accident occurred in the UK, it would only take my parents a few
hours to reach me and wouldn’t cost as much.”
Homesickness and the potential isolation are some of the other fears cited alongside missing their friends. The report found that these students found the prospect of forging new relationships as “daunting”:
“I fear…being lonely in a new place that I can’t just escape.”
Perceived lack of foreign language skills
It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to foreign language. While a crucial driver for overseas study – with languages forming the largest percentage of subjects in which Brits go abroad to pursue undergraduate study – respondents also identified it as a “source of anxiety”.
Around 40 percent of the 1,033 respondents cited lack of confidence in foreign languages as the top reason for their apprehensions with regard to studying abroad.
Some are even dismissing the possibility of overseas study simply because they cannot speak the foreign language:
“I haven’t heard enough about [study abroad] – it isn’t popular in my university apart from foreign
UK’s high quality education at home
With family and friends close by as well as access to some of the world’s best universities, they say:
“What’s wrong with studying in the UK?”
Indeed, their close proximity to some fo the top-ranked institutions is the most popular academic reason for not studying abroad – more than one-third (36 percent) answered: “The UK offers the best quality education for my course” as the top academic barrier for them studying abroad.
Attached to this is the belief that their foreign qualification would not boost employability. However, if they are presented with evidence that the experience would make them more employable, more than half of respondents stated they would be incentivised to study abroad.