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Scots reluctant to study abroad 'endangering the economy'

Scottish university students who are reluctant to study abroad are damaging their job prospects and endangering the economy, experts have warned.

There were 126,000 home students at Scottish universities in 2011/12, but only 1810 left to study overseas, figures show. In contrast, there were more than 40,000 overseas students at Scottish universities in the same year.

While the numbers of Scottish students travelling abroad to study is increasing, the British Council, which specialises in international educational and cultural opportunities, said Scotland still had one of the lowest student mobility rates in Europe.

A recent survey by students' organisation NUS Scotland found the main barrier to studying abroad was the perception it cost too much.

About half of students who took part also expressed concern that their existing language skills would not be good enough to cope in an overseas study environment.

Other issues included finding the idea of going abroad "daunting" and that they did not know how to go about doing it. But only 5% of those surveyed said they could not see the benefits of studying elsewhere.

Lloyd Anderson, director of the British Council Scotland, which compiled the figures, said the main benefits of study abroad were employability, personal development, linguistic development and cultural awareness.

He said: "Employers espouse the value of skills acquired by study or work experience abroad and they believe periods abroad produce graduates who are better educated, more well-rounded and more employable.

"There is also good evidence that students who study or work abroad are more likely to be in employment after graduation and to have a higher average salary."

Mr Anderson, who will discuss the issue today at the regional conference of the Council For Education In The Commonwealth - held at Glasgow University - said Scottish companies would find it difficult to compete internationally without such skills.

He added: "The danger posed to the Scottish economy is in a supply of graduates who do not have the language skills and intercultural competencies that a company needs if it is to compete effectively in the global marketplace."

Robert Foster, vice-president of education for NUS Scotland, called for every student to have the opportunity to study abroad.

He said: "Scotland is providing greater international experiences to increase the number of study abroad opportunities.

"However, Scotland must do more to encourage students to study abroad, and ensure all students are supported to do that.

"We should look at how study abroad programmes are structured to ensure students who simply are not able to take a term or a year away do not miss out."

Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said support was available to help overcome the language, confidence and financial barriers.

A spokeswoman said: "The good news is that, compared to students in the rest of the UK, a greater number of students in Scotland feel they have gained an international outlook from their higher education experience.

"However, not enough Scottish students are taking the opportunity for study abroad as part of their degrees and we would love to see more doing so, including the range of formal exchange programmes, such as Erasmus."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We recognise the rich variety of benefits that studying abroad brings to students and both the host and home nations. As such, we work to enable both incoming and outgoing student and staff mobility through a range of support.

"We work closely with key stakeholders and institutions through staff and financial support to deliver these invaluable opportunities and experiences for students."

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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