Schools grapple with `have A-levels, will travel' culture

5th June 2015 at 01:00
Growing trend for overseas study a challenge for careers advisers

A rise in the number of students planning to go to university overseas is giving schools a new challenge in providing advice for sixth-formers.

Helping students to navigate university applications traditionally required a thorough knowledge of the Ucas (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) system.

But school leaders have warned that the increasing popularity of far-flung study destinations will require sixth-form tutors and careers advisers to become more savvy about universities outside the UK.

A survey by the British Council revealed that more than a third of students are interested in studying abroad. And the number planning to do so at undergraduate level has risen sharply, from 35 per cent last year to 50 per cent now.

Although almost half the respondents (47 per cent) said they wanted to spend just a year abroad, a quarter (26 per cent) were hoping to take their entire degree course overseas.

Hilary French, headteacher of Newcastle High School for Girls, said the numbers of students applying to study abroad had risen in recent years. "It is a growing trend, not only because of the cost but also for the courses and the whole international dimension," she said.

Students on sports scholarships in the US could expect specialised coaching and many European universities offered more contact time than their UK equivalents, particularly in humanities subjects, she added.

Small world

The most popular destination was the US, favoured by four in 10 of those interested in studying overseas, followed by Australia on 11 per cent.

But non-Anglophone countries also featured, with France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan and Italy all featuring in the top 10.

"The world is a shrinking place and [students] need to demonstrate a much broader skill set and be much more adventurous, less insular and less introverted," Ms French said.

Ucas has recently made provision for European universities to join its admissions service, meaning that students could include a non-UK choice among their options. So far, Amsterdam Fashion Academy is the only overseas institution to sign up.

"Each university has different criteria and it is our responsibility to advise the girls. We're having to become experts in European, American and Australian systems," Ms French said.

"Attitudes of what you are going to do at 18-plus are changing and schools need to change with that," she added.

The Ucas survey of almost 3,000 students also found that the cost of tuition in the UK was becoming less important in prompting them to look at studying abroad. In 2014, 57 per cent said tuition fees were one of the reasons they were looking overseas; this year, only 49 per cent did so.

`A lot of work to do'

Members of the Association of School and College Leaders have also become more aware of students looking to study outside the UK, according to council member Sir Mike Griffiths.

Northampton School for Boys, from where Sir Mike retired last year, has cultivated links with American universities. He said that several of the school's students won places on sports scholarship schemes every year.

"Youngsters are increasingly starting to look at studying abroad and I don't think it is for financial reasons," Sir Mike said. "It is a challenge and one that schools have to respond to. It means there is a lot of work to do."

He added that the problem was particularly acute at schools where large numbers did not already go into higher education.

"We were sending 200 students a year to university and had a whole industry of support, but in schools where there are far smaller numbers it is much harder to get the advice and knowledge the youngsters need, and if it is on a global scale it becomes impossible," he said.

Rebecca Hughes, director of education at the British Council, said the survey confirmed that more students were recognising the value of studying abroad.

"The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages and have wider international experience," she said.

Why study abroad?

The main reasons students gave for wanting to attend university overseas were:

  • To travel and explore different cultures - 48 per cent.
  • To live and work overseas - 30 per cent.
  • To experience the best education - 15 per cent.

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