Somehow it seems that every other country in the world is giving out money to encourage students to study abroad. The government of Brazil has announced they will be supporting 75,000 students in the next few years to study overseas by providing scholarships of up to £18,700 per student. A few weeks ago The Coca-Cola Foundation published a press release stating they have awarded a total of $1,000,000 in grants to six different US institutions to fund students’ study abroad to China. The US government sponsors international education exchange programmes too; The Fulbright Program in the United States has sent thousands of students and scholars around the world since it was founded in 1946.
As far as I know, nothing like that is happening here in the UK. I haven’t heard about any coalition government initiatives aimed at promoting study abroad for British students. In fact, the main source of funding in Britain for international education activities, PMI and PMI2, has ended, and there doesn’t seem to be anything in its place. Sure, we’ve got the EU sponsored Erasmus funding for students, but that only covers study abroad in Europe. What about students who want to study somewhere else in the world? And BUTEX (British Universities Transatlantic Exchange) supports a few scholarships for UK students who wish to study in the USA, but it’s not enough.
Those of us working in international higher education in the UK moan about how we can’t get our domestic students to go abroad for a semester to study overseas and see the world. We know the invaluable benefits of an education abroad experience, and we try to impart that on our students to encourage them to go. But for most students, just knowing what a great experience it’s going to be isn’t incentive enough. Funding and having the money to study abroad is probably the biggest single concern for student, and the main reason why many choose not to go abroad. If we could take that issue away from them by providing scholarships and grants to help fund their overseas experience, then we may (hopefully) see more students participating on study abroad programmes.
I’d like to see something along the lines of The Senator Paul Simon Foundation Act here in the UK. It’s a piece of legislation sponsored by NAFSA which may soon be considered in the US Congress, and, if passed, will provide funding for tens of thousands of American students to study abroad. We need that here, for all the same reasons they need it in the US and for the same reasons the Brazilian government is spending millions to send Brazilian students abroad. Global citizens can participate and thrive in a global society.