The most surprising thing we learned in the past week is that university students in the UK are world leaders when it comes to digital reading. In a global study of more than 6,300 students conducted by ebrary, 58% of students responding within the UK stated they would ‘very often or often’ prefer to read an e-book than its print alternative. This figure was 10% above the global average of 48%, an interesting given that the US is most often held up as being the most advanced e-reading market.

When asked how long they spent reading e-books on average each week, UK students leapt even further into the front, stating that they spent at least ten hours a week digitally reading, compared to a global average of 52%. In fact only 10% of UK students responding to ebrary’s survey said they never read an e-book, while nearly 46% of students globally eschewed digital reading in favoured of time-honoured print.

UK students’ apparent bias towards e-books could be due to increased awareness and promotion of the concept of e-book provision and lending among the country’s university’s libraries. While 38% of students globally did not know that their university libraries lent e-books, this figure dipped to only 6% of UK respondents.

Overall, ebrary’s study paints a picture of widespread and growing use of e-books among students at a global level. When asked why they might prefer the e-book option, the reason most commonly cited by respondents was the format’s environmental friendliness (72%), followed by anytime anywhere access (64%). Both of these reasons suggest that students are increasingly turned off the idea of having to handle large amounts of paper-based material during their studies.

At the same time, the study also points towards students engaging with an increasingly complex and rich array of study materials. Traditional print books and journals are not only being complemented by online equivalents, but they’re also being supplemented by lecture recordings, electronic databases and course management systems. Interestingly, however, the study also suggests that Wikipedia is of declining importance to university students. 16% fewer respondents to the 2011 survey said they used it as a reference source for coursework than when they were asked the same question in 2008 prompted, perhaps, by greater availability of easily searchable e-resources in libraries, such as Google Scholar and Library databases.

You can download ebrary’s full report and analysis of its survey via the company’s own e-platform here. It’s 29 pages of fascinating facts and figures and well worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about how e-books and other electronics resources are being assimilated into the Higher Education environment.