British academy

Changes to university funding 'will deter UK students from taking a year abroad'

27 Mar 2012

Concern is mounting that fewer UK students will take degree courses involving a year abroad because of the step change in tuition fees – despite new research for the British Academy and the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) which demonstrates the huge benefits that a year spent studying or working abroad confer on graduates.

The British Academy and UCML are calling on Government to seek ways of minimising the financial disincentives involved in an extra year’s study. In a joint position statement, Valuing the Year Abroad, launched today (Tuesday 27 March 2012) they also call on Government and Universities to recognise the strategic importance of the year abroad – delivering both competitive employability advantages for the students themselves and wider long term benefits for the whole UK economy.

Figures released by UCAS in January this year showed that the some of the steepest falls in undergraduate applications for 2012/13 were for modern language degrees – 11.2% for European languages and 21.5% for non-European languages – typically four year courses with a year spent abroad.

"Britain desperately needs more well-educated, highly skilled graduates who are capable of living and working effectively in any geographical, cultural and linguistic setting," said Professor Nigel Vincent, Vice-President of the British Academy. "Positive action is needed to promote its value and ensure students are not discouraged from taking up these courses by the extra costs involved."

Professor Jim Coleman, Chair of UCML, added: "Business Secretary Vince Cable recognised earlier this month that 'we need a generation of people who speak other people's languages' and that this meant more British students spending time abroad as part of their degrees. But to achieve this, we need to reduce and not increase the financial obstacles."

In the newly released graduate survey – carried out by – two thirds estimated that their residence abroad was a significant factor in getting their first and subsequent jobs, with no fewer than 86% considering the year abroad to be the most valuable part of their degree.

At a time when student mobility is rapidly expanding, British students are already far less likely to study abroad than their mainland European counterparts, with only 17,000 UK students (home and EU) spending a year abroad in 2009/10 as part of their degree – just 1.7% of all UK undergraduates.

This problem has already been acknowledged by the Government in its Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth (1) and by the CBI’s recent Education and Skills Survey (2), which highlighted language skills as particularly important in sectors such as manufacturing and banking, finance and insurance – reflecting the increasingly global focus of these sectors.

The position statement Valuing the Year Abroad was launched at a conference taking place at the British Academy on Tuesday 27 March. Speakers included Baroness Garden of Frognal, Government spokesman for Higher Education in the Lords, and Baroness Coussins, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.

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The British Academy, established by Royal Charter in 1902, is the national body that champions and supports excellence in the humanities and social sciences. Through its four year £5m Languages & Quantitative Skills (L&QS) Programme, the Academy is seeking to build capacity and strengthen skills in these two vital areas.

(1) Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, December 2011): page 65.

(2) Building for growth: business priorities for education and skills (CBI, 2011).