A new study by the British Council has shown that over a third of Nobel Prize winners who studied abroad did so at British universities.
Of the 860 recipients of the award since the prize was established in 1901, 131 were classed as international students for part of their higher education, with fifty having studied in the UK – more than in any other nation.
Randy Schekman, the American cell biologist who won the Physiology of Medicine Nobel Prize in 2013, was the most recent laureate to have been educated as an international student at a British university. Dr Schekman, a student at University of California, Los Angeles, spent the third year of his undergraduate degree on exchange at the University of Edinburgh.
In response to the report, Professor James Smith, Vice Principal International of the University of Edinburgh explained why he believed that so many academics from across the world wish to study at a UK institution. He told The Student, “There are, I suspect, both push and pull factors at play. International movement of scientists generally exposes them to new ideas, methods, disciplines and ways of thinking.
“It also allows them to build broader and deeper transnational collaborative networks of their own. The combination can be profound in terms of shaping one’s intellectual approach (certainly this has been true of my own research career) and that can be a powerful international propellant.
“While one could argue that physical movement is less important than it once was – information and communication technologies transform how we communicate but also how we conduct research, at least in some fields – I suspect digital interaction does not compare to actually going somewhere else in terms of helping one take fresh perspectives, generate new ideas, and take an intellectual breath.
“Randy Schekman […] certainly speaks fondly of his time at the University of Edinburgh.
“I imagine Edinburgh has been a popular destination for visiting future Nobel laureates and home for past and present laureates because it was longstanding strengths in many of the disciples in which Nobels are awarded – Medicine, Chemistry and Physics.
Smith continued, “More broadly, British Universities remain the visiting institution of choice as English remains the language of collaborative science, we are lucky to host a good number of world leading universities, and international collaboration has been at the very heart of our academic practice for many generations.”
The University of Edinburgh has links with three formerly international student Nobel laureates to date, with only the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, the London School of Economics and University College London having established links with more.
Physiology or medicine was the most common prize for international students educated in the UK, with 17 winners. Eight won prizes for chemistry, eight for physics, seven for economics, five for peace and five for literature.
Image: Dr Randy Scheckman, 2013 Nobel laureate in Physiology, studied at Edinburgh.
Image credit: eLife Sciences Publications Ltd.