The arrival of the global student

Postgraduate education is now a worldwide commodity - and smart students are shopping around, says Deborah Humphry
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The Independent Online

More UK graduates than ever are meeting the challenge of university tuition fees by choosing to spend their money abroad. In 2001, there were 3,352 students leaving the UK to do their second degrees, up 15 per cent on the previous year. British students can be found in areas as far flung as Iceland, Fiji and South America – and with the past five years showing an overall 15 per cent worldwide growth rate in the postgraduate population, the trend is international. UK universities are increasingly aware that they are operating in a global marketplace; a recent student mobility report predicts that by 2025 the worldwide figure of 1.7 million students studying abroad will quadruple to 7.2 million.

More UK graduates than ever are meeting the challenge of university tuition fees by choosing to spend their money abroad. In 2001, there were 3,352 students leaving the UK to do their second degrees, up 15 per cent on the previous year. British students can be found in areas as far flung as Iceland, Fiji and South America – and with the past five years showing an overall 15 per cent worldwide growth rate in the postgraduate population, the trend is international. UK universities are increasingly aware that they are operating in a global marketplace; a recent student mobility report predicts that by 2025 the worldwide figure of 1.7 million students studying abroad will quadruple to 7.2 million.

Whether it's Europe for languages, Australia for sunshine or America for prestigious universities, UK students are discovering the benefits of experiencing another culture. The backdrop is globalisation, increasing trade within Europe and the internationalisation of higher education.

Catriona Drew, lecturer in international law at Glasgow University, says: "The internet has made a difference to the way students see the world. Forty per cent of our students do undergraduate exchanges which impacts on postgraduate trends. Whether it's a girlfriend living abroad, the contacts or that they love a city – it changes how a student views their future. It's all part of the new generation's global ideology that you can go anywhere and work anywhere."

A student can choose to work in subject-enhancing locations, with international specialists. Lucy Hinton, an ecologist, says: "Subjects like mine benefit from studying abroad. So if you're studying the rainforest, it's better to be based in Costa Rica where the experts are – the people who have lived with that environment all their lives."

Australia is ideal for sustainable agriculture, wine-producing and mining technology, and boasts a desirable and relatively cheap lifestyle. Their Masters are competitive at £4,000-£8,000, and in 2002 there was a massive 44 per cent increase of UK students, mostly postgraduates.

The US is still the most popular destination, despite high tuition fees of up to £20,000. In 2001, 2,000 UK postgraduates went to study there. Michael Newton studied for his PhD at Harvard and says it was the best educational experience of his life. "It's an incredibly exciting and stimulating atmosphere – your mind expands just from being there. There was a constant stream of visiting writers, politicians and academics, from Doris Lessing to Vaclav Havel." Top American universities offer some of the best student facilities in the world and are likely to boost your income as well as your CV.

With an increasingly open European job market, there are great advantages to picking up a language (or possibly several) and absorbing an alternate European culture: especially in view of the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) findings that 76 per cent of advertised overseas jobs were in European countries. The European commission reports a 14.65 per cent rise in UK postgraduates studying across 32 European countries between 1998 and 2000. English-speaking degrees are now offered in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Bulgaria, usually throwing in free language study.

The UK has some of the most expensive fees and living costs in Europe. Tuition fees in Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Sweden and selected German and Italian universities are free. Add to this the availability of numerous foreign-study grants and scholarships, and staying in Britain begins to look like carelessness.

MBAs are the most popular subject area for postgraduates and the world's major business schools increasingly offer courses aimed at an international market. Institutions have links with employers and the international student population means that postgraduates learn from peers as well as tutors.

In a survey by topgraduate.com, 72 per cent of graduates said they were interested in postgraduate study and 64 per cent interested in opportunities abroad. With a rise in international employment and many recruiters demanding postgraduate qualifications, the obvious answer is to combine the two.

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