When considering where in the world to study, why should a prospective international student choose the United Kingdom? The answer is simple, says Dr Shaun Curtis.
Great Britain offers access to one of the finest higher education systems in the world. Here is a country with just 1% of the world's population yet it undertakes 5% of the world's scientific research and publishes 12% of cited papers. Much of this success is dependent on attracting the best students from around the world.
The UK has a long tradition of welcoming international students. Our universities offer a wide range of innovative, high quality programs supplemented by excellent academic and welfare support. They are internationally recognised and lead to excellent employment opportunities. Our universities also attract large numbers of students from overseas because of the continuing international demand for education in English and the reputation of UK universities in research and teaching. International students provide a valuable cultural mix on our university campuses and in many cases, on return to their home country, act as excellent ambassadors for our country.
Despite some fierce competition, the UK continues to punch above its weight, with only the United States attracting more international students in absolute terms. The increase in international student numbers reflects the considerable investment - over many years - by UK universities in their international activities. Talking to potential students, developing international collaborations and exchanges, and sending senior academics to visit countries interested in sending students to the UK, are important ways in which universities are seeking to highlight the strengths and attractiveness of our higher education system.
There are now just over 50,000 international postgraduate research students in the UK
UK universities offer many different levels of study. For example, there are tremendous opportunities for students wishing to undertake postgraduate degrees. There are now just over 50,000 international postgraduate research students in the UK, accounting for some 42% of all postgraduate research students (the proportion in France is 35%; in the US it is 33%). This also represents about 15% of the total global market share and, per capita, makes the UK the most successful recruiting country at present. When we ask these students why they studied here the most popular answer is the international research reputation of UK university departments.
The UK also offers a more diverse international student base than most - second in the OECD, in fact. Over 70 universities in the UK have students from 100 or more countries and three universities have over 150 countries represented in their student intake.
Those international students who come to study in the UK also report high levels of satisfaction with their experience. A report for the UK Council for International Student Affairs, which surveyed nearly 5,000 international students, found that 91% of undergraduates and 85% of postgraduates were satisfied or very satisfied with their course of study. The most commonly listed benefits included their academic experience, improving their English, becoming more independent, meeting people from all over the world and learning about the UK and other cultures.
Graduates in the UK also enjoy one of the highest financial returns of any other country
Having completed their courses, graduates in the UK also enjoy one of the highest financial returns of any other country. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the earnings advantage for UK graduates over persons with an upper secondary qualification is 59%, well above the OECD average. UK university graduates also have a much greater chance of finding jobs.The opportunity for international students to build on their academic qualification with a period of work experience in the UK is also a major attraction. Students are now able to apply for Post-Study Work visa extensions, which will ensure the UK remains an attractive destination for international students for many years to come.
There are a broad range of UK universities and programs to choose from and international students can access information about these from a variety of online resources. There are also opportunities to meet representatives from UK universities at education events around the world. University staff regularly travel overseas to meet prospective students. Information about these visits can be found on most universities' international office websites. Universities will also welcome visits by students if they are able to travel to the UK.