Monday, August 29, 2011

Many western students should study abroad

Educating citizens from Asia and elsewhere is big business for universities in Europe and the US. For the governments of countries like China, sending bright young people overseas to study is considered essential for ensuring the nation's continued economic success. Yet British school leavers are, on the whole, reluctant to study too far away from home, as are their peers in many other developed nations.Mauritians, Indians and increasingly Russians happily travel abroad to read for degrees and then return home, not only steeped in the latest knowledge but with fresh cultural insights and an international outlook that equips them for the demands of a globalised work environment.

It is a great pity that more young people in the UK, Europe and elsewhere aren't encouraged to spend part or all of their degree programmes abroad. With the seismic shift in the global economic and political power dynamics currently underway, it is an obvious competitive advantage in the workplace for those who do take the leap to have a keen sense of how things work in countries that are on the rise, like China.To a large extent, this trend of international students flowing mostly one way is based on the perception that university standards are much higher in developed countries than they are elsewhere. Students from less developed nations expect to get closer to the latest research and scientific and engineering methods in countries with mature tertiary education sectors.However, globalisation has led to major structural changes in the way education is delivered. It is no longer necessary to travel to the UK, for example, to graduate with a British degree.For example, it is possible to study in English at a British university in China such as the University of Nottingham Ningbo and graduate with a British degree. Or a student could opt to spend some time in the UK and some in China, and maybe even throw a period of study at Nottingham's university in Malaysia into the mix.

The modular structure of degree programmes and content uniformity across the university's campuses means it is uncomplicated for students to switch countries and they don't have to extend their degree programmes in order to study abroad. Quality is controlled through rigorous procedures, so that the same high standards can be maintained whether an exam or essay is being marked in Ningbo, Kuala Lumpur or the UK Midlands.Another reason students from western countries probably don't take up studies in Asia or elsewhere is quite simply the distance from friends and family.The prospect of spending some or all of a degree programme thousands of kilometers from home in another time zone is daunting, even though technologies like Skype can make someone feel like they are right in your living room.Students can also get a lot of exposure while studying in such universities and different course.

Then there is the issue of culture. Not everyone can cope with the prospect of experiencing a different lifestyle and meal options for anything other than a short, exotic holiday.Many of these fears are misplaced. At the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, for example, students can experience a new culture and different way of life at their own pace.They can opt to live in the international student residence, where the bedrooms and bathrooms look just as they do at home and where there is access to their own cooking facilities. Familiar food is available at an international store nearby.The residence is on an attractive, secure campus on a UK-style high street that includes shops, restaurants, a bank and post office, a hair-dressing salon and a travel agent. Also on campus are a Western-style coffee shop and sandwich bar and a restaurant that serves Western meals.

For students who are keen to take the plunge into Chinese living, there are a range of canteens specialising in different styles of cuisine from around China including one which is Halaal. There is a vibrant street market nearby where they can sample the local delicacies.We encourage students to socialise across cultural groups through the many societies and events at the university. One organisation is dedicated to helping international students settle in. The university offers organised trips to scenic and historical spots and nearby cities, and generally finds that it doesn't take long for students to start using the weekends and holidays to see as much of China and Asia as possible in their own groups.Many international students arrive eager to learn Mandarin as part of their degree programmes. We also offer complimentary Mandarin lessons for students who want some basic phrases so that they can get around and make the most of their time in China.

For serious matters, like visits to hospital and mandatory visa-related health checks, we have qualified medical professionals available around-the-clock at the campus clinic. We ensure they are taken care of as they would be at home.Finance is always an issue for young people contemplating degree programmes. Although the education fees at Nottingham Ningbo are comparable to the UK, students generally find living and travel expenses more affordable in China.And as part of our commitment to the internationalisation of all of our student communities around the world, the university offers opportunities for scholarships, bursaries and other forms financial assistance to international students.In short: most of what we do enhances the international student experience. The more nationalities we can attract, the richer and more rewarding the education experience will be for all our students in a fast-changing world where it increasingly matters to have an international outlook and perspicacity in dealings across cultures.

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