Studying abroad: Why students should think global and embark on a course overseas

Students are finding it much cheaper to study in countries across Europe, with France charging around £150 a year for undergraduate degrees at public universities

Rob Griffin
Thursday 25 February 2016 10:13
There are no fees for degrees at Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany
There are no fees for degrees at Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany

British students are on the move. Thousands are opting to study for degrees abroad to benefit from dramatically cheaper tuition fees, the desire to experience living country and a better chance of finding future employment.

The Netherlands, Germany, France and the United States are among the favoured destinations for young people who have taken this increasingly popular path into higher education over the past couple of years. It’s a trend that’s expected to continue as the corporate world is becoming more globally integrated and businesses are demanding that their workers possess foreign language skills and knowledge of key markets around the world.

In fact, the number of students enrolled outside their country of citizenship rocketed from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to more than four million in 2013, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

According to Laura Bridgestock, editor of, prospective students acknowledge that studying abroad will make them more employable through the skills they gain, while most find it’s usually cheaper to study in another European country. “In Germany, undergraduate study is free at public universities for all students, regardless of nationality,” she says. “The same applies in Norway, and it’s also free for EU students to study in other European countries, including Denmark and Finland.”

In other countries fees are very low. France, for example, charges €189 (about £150) a year for undergraduate degrees at public universities. The main obstacle in many of these countries is the language of tuition. “While many countries offer a large selection of Eng­lish taught degrees at Masters level, undergraduate courses tend to be mostly in the local lang­­uage,” Ms Bridgestock explains. “There are options available, but it may just be harder to find the perfect course.”

Language may not be a barrier in other popular undergraduate destination, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, but studying is likely to be more expensive in these countries than in the UK. “In the US average annual tuition fees for 2015/16 are approximately $24,000 (about £17,000) at public colleges and $32,000 at private universities,” says Ms Bridgestock.

“This doesn’t mean it’s completely out of reach, but it does mean most students will need to access some form of financial aid, and they may not have access to as many sources of funding as they would in their own country.”

Other pros and cons should be taken into account. Prospective students need to compare the costs of accommodation and factor in expenses such as flying home to see their families; they should also bear in mind that many UK universities have an enviable reputation that institutions abroad may not be able to match.

However, Mark Herbert, head of schools programmes at the British Council, which works to improve cultural ties and relations, believes there has never been a more important time for young people in the UK to have a global outlook to life and to work. “International experience helps build an individual’s confidence and ability to innovate; it also helps them to connect with counterparts around the globe – skills all absolutely vital for the UK’s economic ambition and place in the world,” he said.

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