Surge in number of students on foreign exchanges

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Record numbers of university students are signing up to work or study abroad as part of their degree, according to new figures.

More than 14,600 people took part in the Erasmus exchange programme in 2012-13 – the highest number since the scheme started in 1987, statistics from the British Council show.

But despite the leap, the UK still lags far behind other EU countries such as France, Germany and Spain, which have nearly three times as many students taking part.

The figures show that in the last academic year, 14,607 UK students studied or worked in Europe, up seven per cent on the year before. In 1987, 925 students took part.

The Erasmus programme is an exchange for university students to study or work in another EU country, with more than 2.5 million taking part since it was launched.

The latest data reveals that Russell Group institutions in the UK, considered among the best in the country, are more likely to have students signing up.

Nottingham University had the most with 522 students taking part in 2012-13, followed by Leeds (459), Sheffield (447), Manchester (438), Bristol (422), Durham (389), Exeter (385), Bath (379), Warwick (367) and University College London (358). The only top 10 university which is not part of the Russell Group is Bath.

Oxford had 305 students taking part last year and Cambridge had 155, the data shows.

Vincenzo Raimo, director of the international office at Nottingham, said the university had set a target for 25 per cent of its undergraduates to be taking part in some form of international scheme or experience by the 2014-15 academic year.

“All the evidence out there tells us that students who undertake international activities gain the additional skills employers are looking for,” he said.

But while rising numbers of UK students are signing up to Erasmus, the nation is still lagging behind its European neighbours.

The latest figures for other countries show that in 2011-12 more than 39,500 Spanish students took part, along with around 33,200 from France and 33,300 from Germany.

The data comes amid continuing fears about a lack of foreign language skills in the UK.