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Record number of UK students studying abroad through Erasmus

The number of UK university students taking courses or working abroad through the Erasmus scheme has risen by 7 per cent to a record high, according to new figures.

There were 14,608 students from the UK on the exchange programme in 2012/13, the highest number since the European Union’s scheme was launched in 1987 to encourage the movement of students between countries.

Historically the UK has lagged behind other countries such as France, Germany and Spain that have almost three times as many Erasmus students. But the latest figures show UK students becoming more aware of the benefits of an international experience.

Scottish students lead the surge of interest making up 13 per cent of participants, though they represent only 8.5 per cent of the UK’s university population.

Language students account for 45 per cent of the UK participants, followed by business and management (15 per cent), social science (7 per cent), art and design (6 per cent) and law (5 per cent).

The scheme covers the majority of costs for higher education students to spend up to a year studying or working in another European country and is a key component of the Government’s new Outward Student Mobility Strategy.

The figures from the British Council, which overseas the scheme in the UK, show that in 2012/13 there were 1,877 Erasmus students from Scottish institutions. The figure for England, which makes up 84 per cent of the student population, was proportionately lower at 11,559, representing 79 per cent of the UK total. There were 709 from Wales and 462 from Northern Ireland.

Universities belonging to the Russell Group provided the most students, topped by the University of Nottingham which sent 522. The University of Edinburgh with 355 was the largest participant in Scotland, Cardiff with 291 the biggest in Wales and Queen’s University Belfast the highest in Northern Ireland with 234.

Ruth Sinclair-Jones, the British Council’s head of EU programmes, said research showed the international experience made a real difference to employability.

“Erasmus is for all students, and is an ideal way to learn another language and culture. As the number of specialist foreign language courses decline in the UK, Erasmus is becoming even more essential,” she said.

“These latest results are encouraging but they suggest that English students still need to do more to embrace this golden opportunity or risk being left further behind in the race for the best jobs.”