Scotland conjures up images of lush green fields and majestic castles. Those weren’t the only reasons why Udita Banerjee chose the University of Edinburgh for her Masters degree over other popular post-graduate destinations (like USA). She says:
The European way of learning, teaching, and working is better than the American approach. It is designed as a more sustainable way of achieving work-life balance.
Udita writes about her experiences as an Indian student in Edinburgh, costs involved, the placement process, visa application and life after completing the degree.
I’d always wanted to do a second degree from outside India. But there came a point where I was in a 9-to-5 job, earning a lot of money, and seeing the same people every day.
This quickly got boring and repetitive and that was really when I decided to start applying to Universities.
I worked with a European company after my under-graduation and I genuinely believed (and still do) that the European way of learning, teaching, and working is better than the American approach. It is designed as a more sustainable way of achieving work-life balance.
Within Europe, I chose UK because I knew that living costs for one year would be lower than two.
While applying to Masters degree programs, you’ll need to submit a statement of purpose, letters of recommendations (one academic and one professional if you’ve worked or two academic), and all educational and professional documents. Some courses need GRE/GMAT.
Some will request a IELTS or TOEFL score if they feel your school/under-graduation does not sufficiently reflect your ability in English. For me, I did not need any of those extra exam scores.
Degree fees vary by Universities and courses and they vary a lot. So it is best to check on the University websites.
To live comfortably, £10,000 (pounds) is sufficient for one year.
I was funded wholly by the UK Government and British Council under the Jubilee Scholarship.
There are many scholarships available. Most Universities have their own scholarships which are advertised on their websites.
Apart from those, British Council advertise all scholarships and funding opportunities on their pages.
Each has a different application process but most will include an essay to defend your application.
There are a lot of part-time jobs and internships which are put up on the universities’ web portals for students. Aside from that, you can also find out about opportunities from friends, professors, various societies.
But because the Masters is a one-year degree, it is very busy. So if you are intending to work part time as well, you have to be prepared to work very hard.
The main requirement for student visas is to show an unconditional offer letter and sufficient funds. Funds can be shown as bank statements, fixed deposits, land or property, or bank loan.
You have to show both degree as well as living costs (for 8 months, £7200).
The University of Edinburgh has one week before all University classes begin called Freshers’ week. This is when most international students are settling in – meeting flatmates, sorting out phone, internet, and any remaining paperwork.
Freshers’ week has a wide range of events taking place all day and all night – from outdoor walking tours to pub crawls, tours of the library or indoor games – the detailed programmes have plenty on offer.
The International Student Centre is open every day, helping students get their identity cards, bank accounts, doctors’ registrations etc, and free coffee/tea and nibbles.
I am fairly extroverted but I met plenty of people who were not. It is just nice to do things as part of a group, meet people from all over the world and participate as much or as little as you want.
This is also the week where each department hosts and induction day, where we heard from our heads of schools and came away with information and guides. This week is very full on and a lot of fun!
Classes in Edinburgh University are a lot more interactive and practical than in India.
More weightage is assigned to practical lab work than theory in exams. Even the theory bit is more of working out problems and presenting solutions to scenarios rather than simple question and answer formats.
There are also a lot of assignments every week. These, again, are very real world scenario based. It takes a while to adjust to the new approach to coursework.
In addition to academics, I did everything else that the university had to offer. I was enthusiastic and I only had one year. So I dived into my work and Scottish life fully.
I made sure that I worked on my studies during University hours. This was not difficult as I had only about 20 class hours every week.
Every weekend, I went travelling around Scotland. Sometimes I went as part of travel societies, sometimes I went along with friends I made here. I travelled a lot in that one year and saw as much of the country as I could.
I also did a couple of volunteering stints. These were a month long each and helped me make new friends, get a feel of the work culture here, and give something back to my host country.
Scottish people are very friendly, they always have time for a chat. They love good food and dance and really know how to have the best parties. They are open-minded and curious and laugh heartily and with abandon. It is always lovely to have the longest chats on the bus or tram or when out on a hike.
The most difficult part to adjust to was the coursework in a year. It was hard work and I was trying to do well apart from managing my own personal time around housework, travelling, and relaxing!
The concept of campus recruitment does not exist. Career fairs are held two-three times a year and students have to go meet them and find out their requirements etc.
The entire process starts one year before. So ideally, you have to start applying for jobs before you start your degree or right after, which is a bit weird. Or you can do what I did, concentrated on my studies, finished that off and then applied for jobs. This meant that I had a few months to kill before I started, which I spent travelling and studying some other stuff.
I applied for a graduate role. The first stage was an application form, followed by an online logical, numerical, and situational judgement test. This took me through to a telephonic interview. Clearing that meant I secured a place at an assessment centre.
At the assessment centre, there was a group exercise, a personal interview, a one-to-one presentation and a role play exercise. This lasts an entire day. Once I cleared that, I was made a final offer.
I am part of a two year graduate scheme at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which means I do three placements of 8 months each, before choosing a department I want to work in. This is good for trying out different areas of the bank and make up my mind about a suitable post. I am currently in my second placement.
As an analyst, I will start the day by doing some resourcing of people to tasks, this will be followed by mentoring a younger member of the team and helping him settle into his role.
Post lunch I will spend some time in team meetings and editing the department newsletter which we print weekly. I will usually do some online trainings or some work on my personal projects to finish the day off.
In my current job, I use concepts of some of the IT based courses I took, like Computer Networks. But not much else. This is because it is quite common in the UK to not relate your degree to your job. I have colleagues who did Latin and Philosophy at University!
What is used are the skills you learn whilst getting a degree. The two most important ones are time management and the ability to conduct independent research. Work, like University life here, is very individually-tailored.
You have to be self-motivated and learn how to go off and learn stuff on your own. And that doesn’t matter if you did History or Engineering. It takes a while to wrap your head around that concept.
Freshers and experienced students both stand the same chances of getting a job. What freshers tend to benefit from is having done some sort of volunteering work or internships in their holidays.
The key is to be able to demonstrate that you can work in a team, manage you time, be self-guided, and be sociable.
The UK has changed visa laws for international students to get work-permits.
Personally, I feel deserving students are still getting jobs. What has stopped is students getting underpaid jobs and living on for two years (under the post-study work) and then leaving.
Now it means that you can’t just get any job, you have to get a job that does justice to your level of education and has a certain salary.
If you have the right skills, are hardworking, and have used the careers department of Universities for information, visa rules don’t matter. Every country is keen on keeping bright individuals in their professional systems.
Once I got the job, my organization took care of the rest. They already had my details of visa etc as an international student and knew they had to get the offer out in time. I got an offer letter two weeks after my final interview.
I had to apply for a fresh work permit as I was not allowed to switch visas because of my funded status.
My organization knew my situation and the legal team (which deals with visas) was in close touch with me advising me, preparing my documents, and covering my application. Once I had the job, I did not have to put much effort in getting a visa.
My year of graduation two years ago was when the visa rules had just changed.
In my class of 26 international students, 4 got UK jobs, 6 went on to do a PhD, the rest dispersed. It is definitely better than that now.
London is the financial hub of UK. Most companies are okay for people to relocate within the UK. I have colleagues who commute to/from London as it is only an hour on the flight. But the visa rules are the same, so your location preference is kind of irrelevant.
Jobs at banks and financial institutions are available in plenty. The big 4 audit companies. Law firms. Doctors, dentists and ophthalmologists are in high demand. Any other job function is difficult.
In hindsight, I think I got what I wanted out of the Masters degree from Edinburgh University. I would have liked to get a first on my thesis, I was swamped under the pressure of original research in 2.5 months, but hey, no regrets, I did my best!
Students planning to study in Scotland should come with an open mind and no preconceived notions. Work hard and make the most of your time here.