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Published on May 21st, 2012 | by Elspeth Merry

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Home or Away?

Joseph Merry

Joseph Merry received an 80 per cent scholarship to go and study BA Drama alongside playing football in Oklahoma. [Edward Swan]

Historically, the UK has been a traditional importer – rather than exporter – of students. Many UK universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, have international appeal because of their established status and excellent reputations.

Almost two years since the Government controversially raised tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000, nearly two thirds of universities in the UK will be charging the full amount from this September, making prospective students ask; is studying here really worth it, or are there alternatives?

The traditional reluctance to study abroad seems to be changing. With more applicants now competing for fewer places and a saturated job market for graduates – along with rising fees – more and more people are now looking towards international universities.

In reality, overseas universities can offer world-class degrees for a fraction of the British price. Studying abroad not only enables UK students to gain cultural awareness, life experience and language skills but also allows them to differentiate themselves from the estimated 70 graduates competing for each job.

Diminishing

“Too many people are going to university who shouldn’t be going because there’s nothing else for young people to do.” – Richard Merry

The number of university applications in England dropped by 8,500 this year and the number is likely to continue to diminish as students realise that they can get better value for their money.

International institutions such as Maastricht University in the Netherlands are taking advantage of their new popularity and are advertising degrees to British students. More than half of its undergraduate courses are taught entirely in English and their fees are only £1,440 a year – less than one sixth of the £9,000 UK students are now expected to pay.

Around a 160 Britons are now studying at Maastricht, whereas there were only 18 British students back in 2008. This figure is likely to double later this year as more students learn about the opportunities that are available to them in other countries.

Students are not the only ones seeking alternatives. Parents are now also pushing their children to study abroad as the £27,000 debt at the end of a three-year course for tuition fees alone in Britain is hard for many families to commit to.

Degree not as valuable

A survey for independent education foundation Edge, questioned 500 parents with a household income between £15,000 and £40,000 and found that the majority said having a degree was less valuable than ten years ago, with half saying that attending university no longer guaranteed a foot up for young people in the workplace.

Studying abroad is now becoming a reality for prospective students, and they are not only looking to Europe. The Fulbright Commission, which helps to coordinate transatlantic study, said that more than 4,000 students and parents attended its US college information day last year. For many British students the prospect of studying in America is particularly exciting and it is now becoming increasingly achievable.

Universities in America hold extremely high accolades and many have world-renowned status. Although the $37,000 tuition fees at universities such as Princeton and Harvard are eye watering, their financial aid is generous and students from the UK are eligible. Other highly rated universities charge a great deal less, with students able to acquire scholarships – particularly for sports – which also rapidly reduces the cost.

Joseph Merry, 17, an aspiring footballer from Lewisham, told us: “I got a great opportunity to play football (soccer) at a higher standard in America. You can play football in university in England but in America the system is different. You go into university and you come out a professional. You can’t play in the MLS, the American Football League, unless you have been to university. So I’ve still got quite a high opportunity to make it as a professional in America.

“If you play football at a university here, like that of Loughborough, you might stand a chance there, but it is very small and you don’t want to risk paying £9,000 a year just to go to Loughborough and end up not getting picked.

“But I probably wouldn’t have gone to an English university anyway because of how expensive it is now. And if I did it would be in a few years time when I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

Value for money

Merry is paying £6,000 a year to study in America, but this also includes all of his accommodation, food and tuition fees. The value for money is indisputable and he is able to pursue his dream of becoming a footballer, whilst working towards a world-class degree in Drama.

“If it makes sense to study abroad and you’re not getting ripped off then you should do it. More people are definitely going to do it because of having to pay £9,000 in the UK and especially for footballers, as it is growing in America so more people are looking to go out there and get a scholarship,” said Joseph.

Merry’s father, Richard, comments that, “it’s a better opportunity than anything offered in England because he is able to play sport alongside a degree. Studying abroad will broaden his horizons.”

“Too many people are going to university who shouldn’t be going because there’s nothing else for young people to do. In the 1970s, no more than about five per cent went to university and that’s why it was free. There have to be alternatives for young people today, and now with fees at £9,000 a year, people who would have traditionally gone to university will be looking for other options.”

Whether that is abroad; or not going into higher education at all, is open to debate.

From this it is clear to see that the university system in the UK is at a crossroads. Although universities may need to push their fees up to £9,000 in order to obtain their high standard of education, if young people are not offered better and cheaper alternatives it is likely that they will pack their bags and say goodbye to Britain.

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