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UK is top study abroad destination for Spaniards

Jessica Jones · 29 Apr 2015, 13:15

Published: 29 Apr 2015 13:15 GMT+02:00

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In the first such study of its kind, the Survey on International Mobility by Spain’s office of national statistics (INE) has questioned thousands of young people on whether they have ever studied abroad.

By far the most popular destination for young Spaniards was the United Kingdom, with 14.1 percent of all study abroad students foregoing the Spanish sunshine for rain soaked Blighty.  

Dr Carlos Conde Solares, the director of Northumbria University’s Modern Languages department who himself came to the UK to study as part of the Erasmus programme in 2003, told The Local that attitudes had shifted considerably in Spain when it came to Modern Languages.

"Traditionally Spaniards had a lower level of language exposure than most of their European counterparts and French tended to be the language of choice, but that has changed dramatically in the past few decades."

Bibiana Aído, who went on to be Spain’s youngest serving member of parliament as Equality minister in 2008, studied at Northumbria University, an example of how younger Spaniards have been embracing both studying abroad and foreign languages, especially compared to older generations (among them Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy). 

"The Spanish university system is heavily subsidized and much cheaper for students than the British one, so access is relatively easy financially, but employability rates for most graduates are low," Solares told The Local. "Studying in the UK turns students into "global graduates", expanding their employment and networking horizons. It also gives them a distinctive life experience."

For Diego Sierra, who spent an Erasmus year studying Electrical Engineering at Sheffield University in northern England, fluency in English is a key skill nowadays and a big draw for Spanish students to the UK:

"Being able to prove to potential employers that you have been able to successfully live and study in the UK for a long period will always be significant," he told The Local.

"If you are already used to the Spanish university system, it won’t be hard for you to adapt to the British one; their methodology is much more efficient and you’ll learn double what you would in Spain," he added.

For Dr Santiago Fouz-Hernández, senior lecturer in Spanish cinema at Durham University, who also took part in an Erasmus exchange in London as a student, there are also cultural motivations.

"There is the obvious attraction of a magnificent literary tradition with universal appeal, as well pop and rock music," he told The Local, "In my day film adaptations of E M Forster or Jane Austen made the UK appear like a little paradise".

But he admits that because of globalization, there is probably less culture shock nowadays than when he came to the UK to study in the early 90s:

"When I coordinated Erasmus for Durham University I noticed the culture shock of students going both ways became less and less pronounced over time."

While the United Kingdom was top choice for young Spaniards studying abroad, the overall figures are still relatively low: only 6.7 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds, or 578,000 people, have spent time studying outside of Spain according to the study, which questioned 19,000 18 to 34 year-olds.

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After the United Kingdom, the next most popular destinations were Italy (12.7 percent), France (10.3 percent) and Germany (9.7 percent).

Spanish women are far more likely to study abroad than Spanish men: 233,000 men studied abroad compared to 344,800 Spanish women, while 62 percent of those who had studied abroad did so for over six months.

Language courses

When it comes to the number of Spaniards taking language courses abroad, women beat men yet again. Out of the 1.1 million Spaniards between the ages of 18 and 34 who had taken a language course abroad, 700,000 were women and 400,000 were men.

English is by far the most popular language, with 47 percent of young Spaniards studying language courses in the UK, followed by 18 percent in Ireland and 10.9 percent in the United States. 

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Jessica Jones (jessica.jones@thelocal.com)

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