Studying overseas: the rise of global student mobility

In recent years, the number of students enrolled in universities and higher-education institutions outside their home country has risen dramatically. We examine the trend and consider the effect of Brexit.

Studying overseas: the rise of global mobility
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Gaining international experience has become a top priority for school-leavers. As the number of students enrolled in universities and higher-education institutions outside their countries of citizenship continues to rise, we explore this growing global trend, and consider whether Brexit will affect the movement of students into the UK from Europe and around the world.According to the 2016 edition of Education at a Glance, an annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report that scrutinises worldwide education developments, more than four million students were enrolled in higher education outside their home countries in 2015. This represents a fivefold increase on 1975’s 0.8 million.A report by consultant Oxford Economics showed that there were 437,000 international students studying in the UK in 2014/15. This figure represented 19 per cent of all students studying there. However, 2016 saw a 7 per cent decline in the number of EU applicants to UK universities.Following June 2016’s vote to leave the European Union, experts – not just in education but across all business sectors – fear that the UK is not perceived as a welcoming place, and that Brexit may have a negative impact on the inward flow of talent.March 2017 saw the last of several evidence sessions held by the UK government’s Education Committee to assess the impact of Brexit on higher education. While experts agreed that there were still many post-Brexit issues to resolve, the mood was upbeat.“This is an opportunity to make ourselves a much more international higher-education system, to recognise that excellence in our universities does not just come from British students and British staff,” said Peter Simpson, director of the N8 Research Partnership, a collection of eight research-intensive universities in the north of England.Andrew Wathey, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Northumbria University, agreed. “I think government have an opportunity to reshape the immigration system now, to recognise the value of attracting talent, and that is not only students but also staff. That is one of the things government could do to draw some opportunity out of the Brexit event.”Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent and president of Universities UK, said that the analysis illustrated the “enormous economic contribution” made by international students to British companies and communities.She added, “The spending of international students and their visitors now provides a major export boost for the UK economy. This is a potential growth area, and there is scope for the UK to welcome more qualified international students and build on this success.“To do this, we must present a welcoming climate for genuine international students and ensure that visa and immigration rules are proportionate and communicated appropriately. This will be even more important as the UK looks to enhance its place in the world post-Brexit.”

Benefits of international schools

Providing a ‘welcoming climate’ for international students is where international schools, often the first choice of families in global transition, could find themselves at a distinct advantage. “In today’s highly competitive jobs market, a strong and proven international mindset can be a powerful differentiator,” says Mark London, marketing manager of ACS International Schools.“The international environment at our schools prepares students for careers that could take them to all corners of the globe and help them to succeed in a global workforce. The ability to understand and work with different nationalities and cultures is a highly regarded personal and professional asset.”At the British School of Brussels (BSB), which prepares students for the International Baccalaureate (IB), A Levels and BTEC courses, students have gone on to study at a wide selection of universities across the globe.“We hear regularly from university admissions officers about how much they value true internationalism, cultural awareness, and the resilience and adaptability of international students,” says Mark Andrews, head of careers at BSB. “The importance of proficiency in multiple languages is also prized.“Our students are encouraged to make ambitious applications in the UK, continental Europe and North America – indeed, all over the world. The UK accounts for 70 per cent of our university admissions, while Belgium, Holland, Canada and the USA make up the bulk of the rest.”

Looking ahead

But it is not just the international curriculum choices and the global culture of international schools that are helping to give international students the advantage. Careers and academic counselling often begin at an early stage, and offer extensive support to students looking at their future options.“We use profiling software to orient students, and curriculum time and individual meetings with careers advisers to discuss students’ aspirations in the world of work,” explains BSB’s Mark Andrews. “This process begins in Year 10 (age 14) and flows through into Year 13. We have an international team of higher-education advisers with particular specialities – UK, USA, Canada, Holland and Belgium, medicine, art and design, Oxbridge.“We have two major Higher Education Days per year. The most recent lasted 12 hours, occupied 13 rooms, offered 96 sessions, and featured 31 visitors from European higher education. We have regular lunchtime sessions hosting university representatives, on average two or three per week, and each university application is prepared by students with one-to-one support from one of our higher-education advisers.”Likewise, students at ACS International Schools are offered one-to-one support. “Our schools have dedicated college counsellors, who help students make informed choices about applications they make,” says Mark London, “whether for universities in the UK, the US or another global location.College counsellors present students with all the options, opportunities and avenues available to them based on their personal interests and resources, and are able to provide expert insight and advice on a number of higher-education fairs, open days and the application process.”With the strong emphasis that both academia and industry continue to place on the willingness of students to be globally mobile and to gain international experience, the advantages of an international school setting and a globally transferable qualification are clear to see.“A common concern amongst students moving on to university is their ability to cope with different styles of learning,” concludes Mark London. “That is why a qualification that transcends national boundaries will help develop mental flexibility and adaptability.“As well as providing a range of flexible curricula, international schools instil students with a fundamental sense of global citizenship and international-mindedness – an ideal precursor to university, where opportunity to study and travel abroad is ample and diversity thrives.”
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