NEW YORK // Although few British students can be the next Emma Watson, who became last year's highest-paid actress by playing the studious Hermione in the Harry Potter movies, more of them are expected to follow her path across the Atlantic to study at a US university.
Rising tuition fees in the UK and the need for stand-out education and experience in a tight jobs market has sparked a higher interest among British students in studying in the United States.
Watson is in her second year at Brown University in Rhode Island, one of eight prestigious universities that constitute the Ivy League.
The last academic year of 2009-2010 saw a record 8,861 British students studying at US universities and colleges, according to a recent report called Open Doors 2010 by the Institute for International Education (IIE).
While many British students would be attracted by the sheer variety on offer at the more than 4,000 universities across the United States, along with a more flexible liberal arts curriculum, the publicity surrounding Watson's choice was also boosting interest, said Lauren Welch, a director at the US-UK Fulbright Commission, which fosters educational exchange between the countries.
"It certainly doesn't hurt to have high-profile students going to the US for their studies," she said. "However, this year the increased interest in the US is being fuelled by a concern about the shortage of places in the UK and the rising tuition rates."
Watson said in recent interviews to publicise the latest Harry Potter film that she was "addicted to knowledge" and enjoying immensely her time at Brown, where she planned to major in history.
"I think university is just so great and I want to spin it out as long as possible - [do] a post-grad maybe or another degree?" she told the British Press Association news agency. "I don't know because it's a weird situation to be in and I'm really doing it for myself. It's just for me."
There has been remarkably little gossip in the press emanating from Watson's fellow students at Brown, an elite university long used to guarding the privacy of the rich and famous and whose past students include the late John F Kennedy Jr, son of the former US president.
Undergraduate tuition at Brown is US$39,928 (Dh147,000), according to its website. But British students face big tuition rises that would narrow the gap with many other US universities.
British police arrested 153 people during student protests against the planned tuition fees rise in London on Tuesday. Under the coalition government's plans, universities would be allowed to charge up to £9,000 (US$14,000) per year, up from the current £3,000.
Average tuition fee was $19,595 for out-of-state students at public universities and $27,293 at private universities in the US, Ms Welch said. Scholarships are also available, with around one-third of British students getting outside funding.
"People are realising that it pays to shop smart for education just as it is for anything else and some are looking into getting their degrees in three instead of the usual four years in the US," said Peggy Blumenthal, the vice-president of the IIE. "Students are looking for an edge with prospective employers and studying abroad can do that."
She noted there was also an increase in student exchanges between the United States and the Middle East, which she expected to rise as awareness rose about the New York University campus in Abu Dhabi.
The number of students from the Middle East studying in the US increased by 16 per cent in 2009-2010 from the previous year to 33,797 students, while there were 3,670 students from the US studying in the Middle East in 2008-2009, up 9.2 per cent, according to the recent Open Doors report.
Ms Blumenthal said there was a time lag in the reporting of US students studying abroad because they usually registered for course credits upon their return to their home university in the United States.
Israel was the top destination for US students, 1,958 of whom went in 2008-2009 but that represented a drop of 15.7 per cent from the previous year because of the Gaza war.
The UAE was the second most popular destination with 955 US students. Meanwhile, 1,653 students from the UAE studied in the United States in 2009-2010, up 35.7 per cent from a year earlier. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Muslim families have shown a particular interest in colleges and universities in Utah, a state dominated by Mormons and a conservative social culture.