Scotland is best, say foreigners

Students from overseas are significantly more satisfied studying in further education colleges in Scotland than in England and Wales

A STUDY by UKCOSA, the Council for International Education, revealed that, throughout the UK, 89 per cent of students were satisfied or very satisfied with their time at college, rising to 91 per cent in Scotland. But those who were very satisfied numbered 31 per cent in Scotland, well ahead of 20 per cent in Wales and 19 per cent in England.

Craig Thomson, chair of Scotland's Colleges International, described the report as confirming that colleges were doing a very good job in "a challenging market."

"We are clearly providing a high-quality experience for international students who come to this country. It is particularly encouraging to see that international students in Scotland highlighted their satisfaction with the quality of their learning experience."

Scottish colleges also scored well on social integration in accommodation.

They were more likely to have UK students as friends - 48 per cent, against 40 per cent in Wales and 38 per cent in England. They were also less likely to agree with the statement "UK students were hard to get to know".

This could be because foreign students in Scotland are more likely to be native English speakers than in England or Wales; also, Scotland had a lower take-up of language and study skills classes.

Dr Thomson, the principal of Adam Smith College in Fife, commented: "This is positive on two fronts. Our international students clearly benefit from integration, and it also suggests that our domestic students are benefiting from an international environment in colleges in this country."

The study was carried out in association with the Association of Colleges, the Association of Scotland's Colleges, the British Council and the English UK association of accredited English language centres.

The major cloud on the horizon is the UK Government's proposal to remove appeal rights from visa applicants. Around five per cent of students in the UKCOSA sample received a visa after appealing against their initial refusal.

With tuition-fee income to UK colleges from overseas students estimated at pound;38.9 million, and other earnings associated with them put at Pounds 331.5m, 5 per cent fewer students could mean a loss of pound;18.5m in earnings to the UK.

Dr Thomson pledged to help pressure the Government to sort out the "ongoing problems that students are clearly continuing to experience in securing visas".

But in general, the vast majority of FE students from outside the UK go home feeling they have been taught by talented lecturers in well-run colleges, the New Horizons survey concluded.

The need to learn English was the biggest reason for coming here but, once at college, they found the benefits were far wider. Students felt a greater sense of independence as a result of studying far from home in the adult atmosphere of FE colleges. They were even pleasantly surprised by British food.

Fears of homesickness and getting to know other students from a different culture also subsided once they were here.

They said the most important service they used at college was the international office, which provides links between the college and the students, their families, and landlords in the UK.

The survey suggests that dealing with overseas students requires the combined skills of a parent, a property-letting agent and an international diplomat - not to mention a large helping of discretion.


The view from overseas:

"I really love the course I am doing, and especially the teachers who are friendly, helpful, enthusiastic and caring."

"The best thing about studying in the UK is that I can have more practices than in my home country, not just theories."

"Whenever I was asked for help, everyone was helpful and close to me. I never felt loneliness."

"It would have improved my experience if I had got to know more British people my age."

"If the cost of tuition was less, it would be a lot easier for me to study."

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