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An International Education for a Global Future

Tess Wilkinson

Tess Wilkinson

Tess Wilkinson is Director of Education Services at Henley & Partners.

There is no denying that the USA is home to some of the world’s most prestigious schools and universities. However, the rapid evolution of the education landscape as a result of globalization and increasing student mobility, coupled with the fact that US students are falling behind in maths and science compared to their international peers, suggests that there are benefits to international education and studying abroad that may not have been considered before.

The sphere of international education

The number of international schools that cater to globally mobile families is growing both in regions long known for their educational high performance in Europe as well as in emerging destinations in Asia and the Middle East. International schools are a logical choice for transnational families who work in international business but can also be of interest to local families who recognize the value of an international curriculum. For instance, completing an International Baccalaureate (or IB program) at the secondary education level (about age 17 or 18) effectively opens doors to nearly any university in the world.

Large group of happy college students celebrating their graduation day outdoors while throwing their caps up in the air

Additionally, an international education gives children the opportunity to immerse themselves in a melting pot of cultures and languages, fostering a global perspective from an early age. It extends horizons, builds connections across a much broader field than a local school, and aligns admirably with the growing trends of globalization and increased mobility.

The USA is lagging in key subjects

Research shows that the maths and science abilities of US students have stagnated for years. While their skills have not declined, American students have been overtaken by those in countries that have invested significantly in their human capital and seen great improvements as a result, such as Ireland, Japan, and Poland. Maths and science scores in the US now lie below the global average.

The 2023 World Competitiveness Ranking, compiled by the International Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness Center, ranks the USA as 9th, moving up slightly from 10th place (its lowest ever ranking), which it held from 2020 to 2022. This is a significant fall from its 2018 position of 1st place, and while this is in part a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, it also has broader implications for the position of the USA in a competitive global landscape, for education and economy alike.

Such results paint not only a comparative academic picture that researchers may find interesting, and that students and families need to take into account when applying to universities, but point to a more serious economic issue that lies in wait. The low scores suggest that US students may not have the necessary knowledge and skills to qualify for high-end and high-paying computer and engineering jobs, whether globally or at home within the USA. Silicon Valley, one of the most popular innovation tech centers in the world, has a substantial proportion of international workers, and that is likely to be the case until the local talent is available.

Europe offers multiple advantages

When undertaking the complex and time-consuming process of applying to colleges and universities in the USA, families often face the fact that there are no clear indications and requirements — American institutions largely take a holistic approach, considering whether a student shows excellent academic skills as well as a wide array of extra-curricular achievements and a personality that will accord with their ethos and that of their collegiate group.

By contrast, admissions to European universities are far simpler since universities focus primarily —even solely — on academic performance in secondary school. This can be a significant relief for students: if they know that they will be pursuing higher education in Europe, they can focus on their academics rather than taking part in activities or clubs that they are not especially keen on with the sole aim of impressing a university.

Student life is another significant difference between US and European education in general. American universities focus on the college and prioritize campus life, fraternities, and sororities. In this scenario, different schools within a university become the student’s community. By contrast, first-year students in Europe have far more independence since most universities do not pursue the American practice of campus-style living; rather, the university is dispersed into various buildings and locations across a city. This is by no means a disadvantage — if the right location is chosen, the whole city becomes a student center, which can be much more dynamic than a single campus.

Finally, the financial argument is a persuasive one. As a rule, university education in Europe costs significantly less than in the USA. The average tuition fees for English-taught bachelor programs in Europe amounts to approximately USD 7,300 per annum, while it can even be a fraction of that in some places, depending on the language of delivery. This is significantly less than average tuition fees in the USA.

How to choose?

Undeniably, both the established centers of USA and Europe, as well as emerging destinations such as Singapore and Hong Kong (SAR China), have their educational merits and can help shape students into global citizens of the future. As a final consideration, it is worth noting that premium education is always at its most powerful when coupled with global access to destinations with maximum earning potential and high livability, some of which are highlighted in our Henley Opportunity Index. A prestigious education combined with global access is the greatest gift to the next generation, and Henley & Partners can support you in this immeasurably important journey.

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Henley & Partners assists international clients in obtaining residence and citizenship under the respective programs. Contact us to arrange an initial private consultation.


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