March 2013 issue

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Popular degrees in the UK

The UK is a popular choice for international students in a wide range of subject areas, including business and economics, discovers Matthew Knott.

Business Studies is the most popular course for undergraduate and postgraduate overseas students in the UK, according to figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), although several other degree subjects see thousands of students at both levels (see table). This is not surprising, as “the City of London is the dominant financial centre in Europe,” relates Joe Docherty at the University of Portsmouth. Indeed, Portsmouth Business School accounts for over 40 per cent of the international intake, and Docherty adds that the university has almost 5,000 international students with numbers increasing by 29.9 per cent since 2010.

UK universities have a long history of developing business degrees. Ian Jones at the University of Chichester notes British degrees tend to be shorter than many countries’, “but the increase in academic rigour ensures they are just as good”. The connection that many popular subjects have with well-respected professional bodies is “an additional quality stamp”, adds Docherty, citing bodies such the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

Jones relates that Business Studies, International Business, Marketing, Accounting and Finance, and IT Management for Business are the top five undergraduate programmes at Chichester. He enthuses, “We are always high up in the National Student Surveys for teaching excellence,” explaining that small student to staff ratios, combined with a teaching approach that prepares students for the working world, are both factors.

“Business courses will always be the most popular course for smaller universities that offer a flexible degree that allows graduates to follow a number of varied career paths,” confirms Tom Whittaker at the University of Bolton. “Whilst many courses fluctuate in enrolment figures on a year-to-year basis, business courses tend to stay relatively stable,” he says, adding that computing and engineering are also in demand.

A similar picture is observed at the University of West London (UWL), where Peter Carrol relates that Business Studies, Accounting and Finance, Hospitality Management, LLB Law and Airline and Airport Management are the top-five programmes for international students.

Regents College London, meanwhile, is one of a select band of private institutions to be granted Taught Degree Awarding Powers, and popular programmes include Global Business Management and International Business, as well as Acting & Global Theatre and Psychology, explains Phillipa Hain. Degree programmes are developed in consultation with the industry to ensure that they meet the needs of employers, which she adds is a major selling point.

Aside from business studies, contributors note an interesting array of growth areas. Thomas Veit at the University of Birmingham identifies sport and exercise sciences as one of them, adding that the university is rated top in this field by the latest Research Exercise Assessment. Jones at Chichester concurs, “Countries with a fast-growing middle class, like India, are seeing dramatic growth in sport as an industry,” he notes. “The London Olympics has been really important in driving this. The success of the UK team really demonstrated to the world what can be achieved when the athletes have professional teams of sports professionals behind them.”

Jones also identifies vocational programmes, especially for the Middle East, and education courses as growth areas. Carrol, meanwhile, expects UWL’s Civil Engineering and Computing Science degrees to grow in popularity, with marketing focussed on the Middle East and Africa. “Developing countries are increasingly seeing the benefits of studying creative subjects,” attests Alejandra Vicencio at Anglia Ruskin University. “Growing economies tend to invest more in these areas and there are therefore greater opportunities for employment both overseas and at home. We are seeing more and more applications from international students wanting to study subjects such as Music Therapy, Media Studies and Interior Design.”

This diversity is one of the UK’s strengths, suggests Veit, with enrolment trends likely to spread widely. “The market for overseas study continues to be competitive and there is more fluidity – international students look to the UK to study a wider range of subjects than ever before.”

Popular degrees for international students in the UK, 2010/11

(Due to the complexity of the data, this article is only displayed in the digital issue of Study Travel Magazine)

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