British students may be shunning foreign universities because of “innate xenophobia”, according to a report.
As few as 33,000 British students currently take courses at foreign universities, according to research
Research published today suggests that Britain’s “history of colonial mastery and insularity” could be preventing people taking higher education courses abroad.
Students from white, working class backgrounds are particularly unlikely to consider studying overseas because of negative attitudes towards “immigrants, foreigners and the wider world outside the UK”, it was claimed.
A lack of enthusiasm for overseas study can also be blamed on the quality of universities in this country – stopping students opting for relatively inferior institutions overseas.
The conclusions were made in a study jointly commissioned by the Government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England and the British Council.
According to figures, 370,000 foreign students attend British universities every year but as few as 33,000 home students take courses overseas.
The study said more students should be encouraged to take degrees and postgraduate courses abroad to boost their career prospects.
Teenagers studying overseas can improve their languages, develop better intercultural skills and broaden their horizons – all seen as benefits to potential employers.
But the research suggested that students were being held back by a combination of factors.
The first related to the quality of British universities, which meant students were reluctant to give up the chance of studying at institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, the report said.
It added: “The second thought is to ponder whether there is something innately xenophobic about the British character which derives from a history of colonial mastery and insularity.
“This, it could be hypothesised, translates down to the cultural and motivational attitudes towards mobility at the level of the individual student and his/her family.
“Studies of white, working-class attitudes towards immigrants, foreigners and the wider world outside the UK confirm this rather depressing perspective and make it even less likely that students from this background will be candidates for studying abroad.”
The study, carried by academics from Sussex and Dundee universities, said British universities should do more to provide guidance to prospective students about further study abroad.
Heather Fry, Hefce’s director for education, said: “This report highlights the benefits that UK students can gain from studying abroad.
“We should be doing more as a nation to publicise and support this. Students are missing out on opportunities, not least to improve their competitiveness in the international graduate labour market.”
The conclusions come amid growing fears over a lack of university places in Britain.
According to new figures, almost 210,000 students who applied for degree courses this year failed to secure a place. It meant around a third of applicants were rejected.
Student leaders have warned that competition for places next year will be even more competitive as people rush to secure places before a sharp rise in tuition fees in 2012. The squeeze on places is likely to be fuelled by large numbers of students reapplying after being rejected this summer.
According to the latest report, which was based on an analysis of existing studies into student mobility, some students are already encouraged to move abroad because of a lack of university places in Britain.
The report quoted a recent study in which British students were asked to name their reasons for taking courses overseas.
Some 42 per cent blamed “limited places in the UK” for their particular course, while a third identified high student fees in Britain.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “We have much to be proud of when it comes to higher education. We are recognised as a leader both in research and teaching and continue to punch considerably above our weight.
“However, pressure on university places, plans for damaging funding cuts and cheaper degrees elsewhere in the world mean that our brightest brains will consider studying abroad for financial reasons as well as a potential boost to their future chance of success.”
Article by Graeme Paton on Telegraph.