With an increasing number of universities all over the world offering undergraduate courses taught in English at affordable rates, UK students are looking overseas for their education. Many of the programmes they find offer a new perspective on teaching and learning.
"It's a very international environment here," says Jana Light, who is studying communications at the HAN University of Applied Sciences, a state university in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. "In my class we have one Dutch guy, and the rest are from Germany, Ukraine, Lithuania, China, Vietnam, Indonesia – all over."
It's similar at IE, a private international university with campuses in Madrid and Segovia, Spain. "We have multicultural classes of 25 to 50 students, which may bring together people from 20 different countries," says Geoffroy Gérard, associate director of communications. "That will affect everything from the students' interests to the styles of study they have experienced." International students make up 60 per cent of IE's intake. At Jacobs University, a private institution in Bremen, Germany, more than 75 per cent come from outside Germany.
The teaching style benefits from this international mix of students. IE's approach, for example, prioritises discussion and debate over "chalk and talk". If there are lectures, they won't be the stadium-scale, professor-at-lectern affairs that go on at many UK institutions. "Usually, learning will involve some sort of chat," says Gérard.
Another feature of many international universities, and certainly of HAN, Jacobs and IE, is a focus on group work. Light says: "Students have to deal with each other on a day-to-day basis. You talk to each other about the different ways you might approach your work and your different experiences of learning. Everyone gains from that."
Students then apply these team-working skills to real work environments. Light, for example, hopes to spend the next year of her studies in Sweden, with six months in a work experience placement and six months at a Swedish university, all counting towards her degree. Comparable opportunities at IE have students taking internships all over the world.
Students still communicate with professors via online platforms. "That can be a split screen, where they can talk to each other as well as to the professors, or it may be in forums where students and tutors can discuss a topic and work through assignments," says Gérard. Contact is maintained and students have targets to meet.
Professors have a global outlook, too. "All of our professors have international experience. They have either come from other countries, or they are Spanish professors who have taught or studied in international universities. That brings a different mindset to the learning."
Light is aware of how education styles can vary between countries. The 21-year-old grew up between England and Germany, was schooled in both countries and now attends a Dutch university. "I found the approach to school in England to be quite disciplined. Everyone was expected to do their homework and to be on time, and the students were very respectful towards the teachers. In Germany, it was a lot more informal." At HAN, she says: "The atmosphere is really open and friendly."
Students may take some time to adapt, however. At Jacobs, there are systems in place to help students acclimatise. "When students first arrive on campus, they all go through inter-cultural training – learning how to work together in teams, learning about cross-cultural communication, experiencing different kinds of classroom culture," says Marie Vivas, director of admissions. "We think it's very important to teach each other about these differences and we encourage all students to be active in the classroom and research processes. The hope is that the students who graduate from these international classrooms will be able to work in teams with people from all over the world."
IE, HAN and Jacobs are among a number of international universities exhibiting at the Student World Fair, which is being held at the Emirates Stadium in London, 17 March 2012. Visit www.thestudentworld.com