UK becomes number one European sender of students to US universities

Overtaking Germany in 2014 and Turkey in 2015, the UK is now the largest European source of international students at American universities.

Published today, the Institute for International Education (IIE) Open Doors 2015 report has revealed a steady five-year increase of UK students choosing to complete their higher education in the States, with 10,743 British students enrolled at American universities in 2014-15.

  • Report shows the UK now sends more students to the US than any other country in Europe
  • 23% increase in British undergraduates studying for full degrees in the US over the past five academic years
  • Largest year-on-year increase in UK postgraduates enrolled at US universities for over ten years
  • US-UK exchange high in both directions, with 38,250 Americans studying in the UK, more than anywhere else in the world

Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, the total number of UK students in the US increased by 21%. This reflects the growing trend in US study interest tracked by the US-UK Fulbright Commission: over the same period, yearly unique visits to www.fulbright.org.uk, the official online source of US study information in the UK, have increased by over 350%.

Undergraduate study remains the driving force for these increases. During the 2014-15 academic year, 5,207 UK students were undertaking full undergraduate degrees in the US, marking a 23% increase from 2009-10.

Popular responses to a yearly pre-departure survey conducted by the Commission, which tracks the motivations of UK students bound for the States, include the quality and reputation of US universities, the flexibility of the liberal arts curriculum and the availability of funding. Students are also drawn to US campus life and culture.

US universities have caught on to the growing attraction of the US to UK students. In September 2015, a record 190 institutions exhibited at the Fulbright Commission’s USA College Day in London, the largest American university fair in Europe.

Current sixth-form students may be inspired to cross the Atlantic by the successes of the Sutton Trust US Programme. Close to 140 programme participants are now studying in the US, accessing over $30 million in financial aid. Applications for the fifth year of the programme have just opened (us.suttontrust.com).

The British increase in student mobility to the US was not confined to the undergraduate level. Postgraduates comprise nearly a quarter of UK students in the US, and the 2014 intake of 2,637 was the largest year-on-year increase (8.34%) of UK postgraduates enrolled at US universities for over ten years. 

Sutton Trust US Programme alumnus Jordan Clark, Northwestern University (2015-19), from Nottingham, said: “I was drawn to the US by the flexibility of a liberal arts degree and the ability to pursue two major fields of study. There's also a strong focus on extracurricular activities and opportunities outside the classroom. Compared to my peers in the UK, I'm taking a wider variety of classes and I’m involved with more things on campus. It seems to be more academically rigorous here too - after two weeks of classes I was already taking exams.”

Commenting on the report findings, Penny Egan CBE, Executive Director, US-UK Fulbright Commission said: “Students are increasingly engaging with the wider world, both academically and culturally, and it is wonderful to see the UK leading the way in seeking intercultural opportunities across the Atlantic. As the hub of undergraduate and postgraduate US-UK educational exchange, we were delighted by the increases in both levels of study. We can also celebrate the UK remaining the most popular destination for Americans studying abroad – top of the pile in both directions.”