UK overtakes USA in student popularity

Can we believe the current hype about studying at a UK university or college? Is it really the most popular place to study in a world of increasing choice and unprecedented student mobility? According to research published in newspapers as respected as The Guardian, The Independent and the Times Higher Education the answer is a resounding YES! A survey of more than 11,000 international students from 143 countries indicates that the number one position of the USA as the world's most popular study destination is under serious threat for the first time.
95% of those responding to the survey rated the UK as an “attractive” or “very attractive” place to study, compared with 93% for the USA. With over 330,000 international students already enrolled at UK institutions, it’s likely that number will increase over the coming academic years as more students discover the benefits of UK graduate education.
So why is the UK becoming one of the most attractive study destinations for international students? According to current and former international students, the reasons are varied and touch on a unique combination of both studying and living in the UK. Nigar Baimova, from Azerbaijan and an alumna of Leeds University, offers some explanation: “While getting academic credits are really important, don’t forget to remember the type of experience you want to have while studying in the UK.  Realistically, time spent being immersed in the culture, travelling and building relationships with locals will greatly outweigh the time you spend hitting the books.  The experience in the UK will definitely help you grow.”
The academic and living environments in the UK offer a number of advantages for international students, not least the sheer variety of colleges and universities offering graduate programs.

With more than 160 institutions currently awarding Masters or PhD degrees, international students are faced with an unparalleled choice depending on their own personal preferences.
With more than 160 institutions currently awarding Masters or PhD degrees, international students are faced with an unparalleled choice depending on their own personal preferences. City universities, such as those located in Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London or Manchester, exist in an urban setting, offering the student the opportunity to enjoy the resources of both the city and the university; campus institutions, such as East Anglia, Essex, Keele, Sussex and Warwick tend to be more self-contained, purpose-built and convenient.
Sunil Bundoo, from Mauritius, graduated from the University of Warwick with a Masters degree in economics. Sunil’s reasons for selecting Warwick, having read his bachelors degree in Australia, match those of many students choosing the UK: “Aside from the academic concerns of picking a high quality, research related Masters program, I wanted to live at a campus university so that I had a community around me.  I shared a flat with seven other students – a completely new experience and one that I really enjoyed. We all had the same interests, many of the same pressures and managed to help each other through the whole year.”
Many other international students select either a UK Masters or PhD program based on the quality of the teaching and research on offer and the learning methods that characterize the UK approach. Leonardo Stanley, a former Chevening Scholarship winner and Masters graduate from Queen Mary in London, chose the UK because of the high quality academic content of his program: “From a professional point of view, my stay in the UK provided endless opportunities. As an economist, having had the chance to attend courses with brilliant students from different countries and having been taught by professors with vast experience and high professional stature has enabled me to improve my knowledge of Latin American problems.” 
 Sri Lankan Vikram Nataraj and Masters graduate of the London School of Economics echoes these comments: “The opportunity to study at the graduate level in a program focused on research-driven content was very important for me.

..."I also preferred the learning style in the UK, with small lectures coupled with student-led tutorials and seminars. I was able to have time with economists who were at the cutting-edge of their field"...
I also preferred the learning style in the UK, with small lectures coupled with student-led tutorials and seminars. I was able to have time with economists who were at the cutting-edge of their field, developing policies for central banks and other organizations offering me their research insight.”
A further element adding to the appeal of studying in the UK is the length of time it takes to complete either a UK Masters or PhD program. Most Masters offered in the UK are one year or less, while PhD programs are generally completed after three years of study. For those international students investing their own funds to meet their tuition and living costs, the attraction is obvious: finishing a Masters degree in half the time it takes for students to complete the same degree in the USA, Canada or in many European countries greatly reduces all of the related costs and means that entry to the world of work is a year earlier. With UK graduate degrees being regarded as of exactly the same academic standard and quality as their longer counterparts in other countries, this is certainly one of the most attractive features of studying in the UK.
But there is perhaps another, more significant, factor behind the increasing popularity of the UK as a study destination for international students. With the pressure of long-term skills shortages impacting on a number of sectors in the UK labour market, there is now a much stronger relationship between those students graduating from Masters and PhD programs and the world of work in the UK. Developments in Scotland and, more recently, in the rest of the UK have enabled more international students than ever before, to remain in the UK and work after graduation.
Launched by the Scottish Executive in 2004, the Fresh Talent initiative has already tempted 5,700 international students to stay in Scotland after graduation, many of whom have secured highly skilled positions in sectors as diverse as oil and gas production, finance, fine art preservation and biotechnology. Carrie Ann Anderson is one such student – a Masters graduate from the St Andrews University in Museum and Gallery Studies says: “I think the Fresh Talent initiative has helped level off the job situation for people coming from abroad. Some employers don’t want to be involved in obtaining a work permit but I have been lucky however because my area is a ‘shortage subject’ so there are more work opportunities and people are more likely to accept me.”
With a similar scheme – the International Graduates Scheme (IGS) - now being introduced throughout the UK, the opportunity to work after a Masters of PhD program has never looked more likely. Although the labour market continues to be competitive in the UK and particularly in London, an increasing number of students are securing employment, whether based on their performance in their graduate degree, the specific subject matter they have studied or under the terms of one of the UK Government’s new initiatives. The advantages for graduates are clear – the opportunity to gain vital work experience and earn a graduate-level salary add an attractive element to the overall pull of UK Masters and PhD degrees.
With a well-established university system and a reputation for quality and innovation, it’s easy to see why so many international students are putting the UK in first place as their study destination. Coupled with an exciting social and cultural life, shorter graduate programs and new opportunities for graduate employment, is there a better place to study for your Masters or PhD degree?


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