Tuition Tourism : International student mobility as British students move abroad

by Fiona Ferbrache

Branded ‘tuition tourism’ by the media, the practice of travelling across borders to obtain further education was the subject of a BBC News report by Chris Buckler last Friday. Speaking from Amsterdam, Buckler introduced students from the UK who are currently enrolled in university and colleges throughout the Dutch city. At University of Amsterdam, British-student numbers have doubled since last year, and more are expected next September when UK university fees rise. While the majority of Britons currently studying in Europe are exchanges students or postgraduates, the report interviewed sixth formers whose options have broadened geographically with the realisation that studying abroad may be one solution to avoid higher tuition fees.

For those uncertain of the value of study abroad, a forthcoming paper in TIBG may prove useful reading. Developing earlier work on international student mobility, Findlay et al. present the results of a large survey conducted among UK students based at universities in six countries around the world. The paper presents a much more complex understanding of international student mobility than most existing theories enable. Among the findings, Findlay et al. argue that students from the UK consider study abroad as a trajectory through which they can distinguish themselves and use this ‘difference’ to broaden future opportunities, including career aspirations. However, as the authors indicate, the majority of students from the UK tend to be concentrated in a few elite or specialised institutions.

Who the students are that study abroad, and where they go to, may change over the next few years as cheaper degrees available outside of UK become increasingly considered options for potential undergraduates.

   BBC News (2011) UK students choose European universities as tuition fees rise. BBC1 23 September 2011 (available online)

  Findlay, A.M., King, R., Smith, F.M., Geddes, A. & Skeldon, R. (forthcoming) World class? An investigation of globalisation, difference and international student mobility. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

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