Are perceived cost and language difficulties putting students off studying abroad?

by Ray Clancy on May 2, 2013

Are perceived cost and language difficulties putting students off studying abroad?

Are perceived cost and language difficulties putting students off studying abroad?

Most students who decide to study abroad cite higher quality education, teachers, courses and facilities than those immediately available to them at home as the most important factors, research shows.

The cultural experience of living and studying overseas are the next most popular reasons and on average some 2% of countries’ tertiary level education population will pursue overseas study, according to the research from the British Council which has been tracking the opinions of international students since 2007. But many, particularly students in the UK, end up not studying abroad because they are concerned about the cost and language barriers, it has found.

Reasons for moving abroad to study are often the result of insufficient domestic opportunities, over subscription to a limited number of places at high quality institutions, and lack of diversity in the programmes available to them at home. However in countries such as the UK and the USA, where there are already plenty of quality education institutions, albeit increasingly expensive, providing world class education and training, there are more complex reasons why students would look elsewhere to learn.

It is widely acknowledged that skills gained whilst pursuing overseas study develop and expand a student’s abilities and credentials, making them more competitive and attractive to future employers. Indeed, recent British Council research showed global employers value candidates who understand and accept different cultures, build trust and work in diverse teams. All of these are intercultural skills gained whilst studying abroad.

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The British Council’s Broadening Horizons report shows that, by and large, students already exposed to and interested in study abroad opportunities do understand the benefits to be gained. Some 82% of UK and 72% of US students indicated they believed they would need more than their current qualification to gain employment after graduation. Also 90% of UK respondents and 88% of those from the US indicated they saw a study abroad experience as offering a way to gain these skills and get ahead when applying for future jobs but in the UK in particular many end up staying at home to study.

‘We learned from our research that a large number of students look favourably on overseas study as an opportunity to travel and see the world, without putting great emphasis on academic opportunity and improvement. It is later in their careers that they learn how the experience benefited them more broadly than perhaps they had originally expected,’ said researcher Elizabeth Shepherd.

Cost and foreign language learning were consistently highlighted as barriers to both UK and US students studying overseas. ‘However, current students abroad that we spoke to, the majority of which were or had recently been studying in China, said that these barriers were not as impactful as they had originally expected,’ she explained.

Most had benefited from scholarships from home and host governments and also received language learning lessons as part of their programmes. They revealed that once they had adequate information, these barriers, some real and some perceived to be, had been broken down. ‘This theme ran consistently through the data collected across our research; barriers, perceived or real, were broken down when students were given information to tackle them,’ said Shepherd. ‘Our research showed there is great interest from both UK and US students in pursuing overseas study. But with 80% of UK students planning to stay in the UK, this could be improved,’ she added.

The report concludes that broadening horizons must begin at home and so greater emphasis needs to be given to the early development of soft skills with a clear line drawn between intercultural skills and future employment opportunities.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Baldilocks May 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Failure to learn a foreign language is the main cause. Since English is perceived as one of the most common languages spoken around the world, native English speakers place far less emphasis on learning another language to any degree of competency. For example, I now live in Spain but many of the expats I come across can barely manage to do more than ask for a couple of beers in the local bar and they are people who have decided to come here to live.

Potential students in other countries who haven't first bothered to learn the language of that country are wasting their time and that of their fellow students if they expect the tutors to spend valuable teaching time repeating everything in English which, of course, they won't.

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