2009 has seen a 4% increase in UK students choosing to study at universities in the United States of America.
According to a study published by the US-based Institute of International Education, the top destinations for British students were Harvard, Central Florida, New York University, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that top Ivy League universities can charge more than £20,000 per annum in tuition fees, many are able to offer generous bursaries to their foreign students, which adds to the appeal of their institutions.
Lauren Welch, from the US-UK Fulbright Commission – which promotes overseas study – said the latest shift was fuelled, to an extent, by the popularity of Barack Obama.
“Fulbright has anticipated this increased interest in US study for some time,” she said. “In addition to improvements to the US visa application process and expanding international recruitment efforts by US universities, we suspect there has been a so-called ‘Obama effect’ on international student interest in the US and a growing recognition amongst UK students and parents of the value of a more international education.”
In the 2008/9 academic year, 8,701 British students were studying in the US, researchers said. This included a 3% rise in undergraduate students and 21% increase in demand for non-degree programmes offered, including short-term placements and visiting student schemes.
According to the report, Britain hosted 33,353 American students, representing an increase of two per cent and almost 13 per cent of all US students abroad. Britain remains the top destination for Americans studying abroad but the rise in numbers has been slower than in previous years.
However Andrew Halls, the head of King’s College School in Wimbledon, said last month that a “crisis of confidence” in the higher education system was pushing many British teenagers overseas. He added that UK universities had been “bullied not into a corner but onto the very edge of a precipice.”
Some top independent schools have reported a doubling in the number of students attracted to the US in recent times.
This comes amid calls by some top UK academics to lift the cap in order to allow UK universities to compete with US ones. Professor Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University, warned that we are in the midst of an academic “brain drain” from the UK to the US as US universities could easily match the salaries of UK universities and offered better research facilities.
He said, “If we want to solve the problem in the UK, our students need to be charged the same amount of fees as is the case in the United States. It would help if there was more public sector funding in research and development but students need to pay for their own education.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents academics, said: “The issues that come up time and again as key factors in preventing this brain drain from the UK are ensuring that our academics are paid well for the work they do and are allowed to do their jobs without unnecessary interference.
“Therefore it is rather worrying that the employers are, at present, sticking to a final pay offer of 0.5 per cent, the academic community is revolting against new research proposals and excessive workloads are regularly topping lecturers’ complaint lists.”