New study on how Norwegian students make decisions about outward mobility

A new report from NIFU has examined in more detail why Norwegian students choose to go abroad and how they find information about countries and  institutions they would want to study in.

According to most recent OECD Data (Education at a Glance 2016), about 6% of the students in OECD countries are international students, and the ratio of incoming and outgoing students can vary substantially between countries. While studies have examined the motivation of students to go abroad in other contexts (see for example this study for UK), there are few comprehensive studies in the Norwegian context, the last study of this kind being conducted about 15 years ago.  One could argue that Norway is an interesting case for studying outgoing students in a European context. It has traditionally had a large number of outgoing students and a student loan/support system that is favourable for studies abroad, as it also opens for support for tuition fees (up to a limit).

The NIFU study is based on a survey that was the largest of its kind in Norway, covering 5464 students who had obtained support from the State Loan fund to study abroad for a full degree. The survey shows that students are in general rather happy with their choice to study abroad.

The report shows that there are different reasons for choosing to study abroad. The three reasons that were most often selected were an interest in an international environment, being adventurous and hoping to experience another culture. However, aspirations of an international career, opportunity to have a break from current environment, good funding opportunities, an opportunity to learn a language and themes related to quality were also stated as important. For some students, the main rationale was access to studies that have limited study places in Norway (i.e. medicine, veterinary science and dentistry, as well as artistic fields). In general, for students who choose to go abroad, they often either have lived abroad earlier (49% answered that they have lived more than 3 months abroad previous to their current studies), or have a parent who has lived abroad (52%).

An interesting finding in this study is the role of professional recruiters, as the survey indicated that 36,4% of the respondents had used a professional recruiter.

Dr. Elisabeth Hovdhaugen (NIFU)

Dr. Elisabeth Hovdhaugen, a researcher at the project, comments: “This is the first time we have credible information on the extent to which students who study abroad use professional recruiters to get a study place abroad. As expected there are great differences between regions, recruiters are mainly used by those who want to study in English speaking countries (UK, US, Australia) where institutions charge tuition fees. But that more than six of ten students who study in Britain or Oceania have used a professional recruiter was surprising, as we did not expect the share to be that high. However, this can contribute to explaining why there has been an increase in students studying in the UK over time, as the recruiters promote the institutions they represent.

Choice of destination is often based on the reputation of the specific institution, language (both proficiency and a wish to improve) and geographical considerations. While almost all of students use the home pages of the institutions, agents, rankings, international student association and word of mouth (friends) are also used to a considerable degree.

According to Hovdhaugen, this represents a different picture from the previous survey:  “Compared to the last survey of outgoing students, conducted about 15 years ago, information from institutional websites are much more important today, which probably mirrors the impact of information though internet in general. Particularly for students who have their mind set on a particular institution, the website constituted an important source of information, but at the same time are websites the easiest way to access information on higher education institutions today.” 

Read the whole report here (in Norwegian, pdf)