If you plan to study abroad, it’s probably a “smashing” idea, as the British would call it, to jump into the melting pot of cultures called the United Kingdom.
International students to the UK have a choice of over 100 universities and other higher education institutions.
According to statistics from the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA), the UK (England, hosts 485,000 international students, pursuing their degrees.
As many as 342,000 are from non-EU countries, including about 120,000 from China, 26,000 from India, and 20,000 from the US.
The UK universities with the highest number of international students are University College London, the University of Manchester, and the University of Edinburgh.
The most popular subjects are business and administrative studies, social studies, medicine and allied studies, and creative arts.
International student life in the UK
Campuses in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) are safe, but it is better not to ignore precautions.
Attend a safety talk by the police during the Orientation Week; if you walk or travel late at night, do so in groups; prefer well-lit streets and avoid short-cuts at night; use ATMs during the day, and never write down your PIN.
Most undergraduate programs consist of three years in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (four years for a foundation degree). In Scotland, the norm is four years.
As the programs are shorter (though intensive), the cost to the student is lower than in some other countries, and prepares the student for employment sooner.
Applying to study in a UK university is a simple enough process. The first step is to decide on a choice of programs you want to pursue, colleges, and universities, research them, and see whether you meet the eligibility criteria.
The second step is to register and apply online (for deadlines, check the UCAS, or Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, website) — you can apply to all universities/colleges through the UCAS for undergraduate courses on the website (graduate courses have their own specific requirements and application processes).
You then accept any offer from a university, arrange for funding, and apply for a visa.
The grading system can be confusing to international students. Seventy percent marks are required for a first class, 66-69 percent for upper second class (which is usually the eligibility for graduate school), 50-59 percent for lower second class, 45-49 percent for third class, and 40-44 percent, the minimum required for a pass, for an ordinary degree.
Generally, undergraduate students in the UK attend classes for 15-25 hours a week, during which they are encouraged to be creative and interactive during discussions, independently analyze topics, and develop a capacity for teamwork on their projects.
Almost always, an assignment or a project has to be submitted, and students need to balance the time between studies and leisure activities.
Critical thinking and self-learning are encouraged, and some lecturers let their students call them by their first names.
Drinking tea or enjoying a pint at a pub is part of the UK university culture, and so are campus societies and clubs that cover many interests and hobbies.
The UK is a center of world music from hip-hop to opera, and university campuses are venues for big-name artistes and bands.
Special to Oxford and Cambridge Universities is “punting,” in you use a flat-bottomed boat and propel yourself down a river using a pole that you push along the river bottom.
According to Times Higher Education surveys, the universities with the best campus are Loughborough University (library, spa, sports facilities), Exeter (quality accommodation, huge digital library), Lancaster (shops, bars, jazz concerts), Dundee (cheap and cozy), Edge Hill (location in Cambridge, great housing), Sheffield (urban campus, art galleries), Buckingham (landscape), St. Andrews (breathtaking beaches), Liverpool Hope (facilities, landscape, social life), and Leeds Arts (libraries, music venues). Newcastle, Leeds, and Dundee have a great nightlife, too.
You need to check out campus quality by four criteria — social life (are there clubs, art venues?), community vibe (who will be your college mates?), extracurriculars (sports facilities, competitions?), and campus environment (near a city, safety, landscape?).
After you arrive
You will need a bank account for university registration, so apply for one before you leave home. It takes between seven and ten days to open an account. Keep enough cash for the first few weeks.
You first need to get through red-tape before you can begin your journey to your dreams.
A lot of paperwork faces international students, including various applications, financial aid forms, and health insurance forms (students are eligible for free medical assistance and subsidized dental and optical treatment through the NHS after paying a surcharge).
You can seek help from international student officers and counseling services at your university.
You can also go to Save the Student (STS) for advice on money matters, accommodation, food, student loans, and scholarships and grants.
Search Facebook for groups for international students in your university. You can do this even before you arrive.
A book for international students, International Student Pathfinder, written by a Cardiff graduate from Uganda, is a helpful resource.
You would do well to familiarize yourself with the public transport system in your city, especially if you’re living in a rented accommodation away from the university.
Bigger cities may have additional transport, such as the Metro in London. See if you can afford a yearly pass to keep transport expenses down.
The Oyster card or Travelcard can be used in London across all modes of public transport. Oyster is cheaper, but Travelcard can be a better option depending on how much commuting you do.
If you love to bike, that is also a good option, environmentally and for your fitness.
The UK climate is characterized by low humidity, warm summers, and mild winters, with sunshine and heat waves, rain and snowfall. It is often cold and wet, so pack lots of warm clothes and a raincoat.
Summer is only rarely hot. Long, bright days mark the summers, and cold, short days the winters.
The UK, comprising England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, each with its own distinct culture, is home to over 67 million people, 15 percent of whom were born overseas.
The people have a sense of justice and respect for law and order. They have a subtle and wry sense of humor, which is not always easily understood by people from other countries.
You may know a lot about the UK but may still worry that you may not fit into its social and academic culture. What if you fail to make friends?
There are ways out of your predicament:
- Talk to other international students who are probably going through the same situation.
- Take some things from India to make you feel at home.
- Try to speak to other students and make friends, even if proves difficult in the beginning.
- Join students’ clubs to socialize; talk with your mentor/tutor about your concerns.
- Be polite, and learn to say thank you and sorry.
- Be punctual, as it is considered rude to be late.
- Follow the queue system.
- If you’re invited to a party, take a small gift, and make a return invitation.
- The drinking culture is widespread among students, but don’t feel pressured to drink.
- Don’t smoke in public places as it is banned.
- Don’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, age, class, or disability.
A great way of learning to be comfortable with the culture of a new country is to travel. Take a coach or train to enjoy the different cities, towns, and the countryside.
Book your seat well in advance for the cheapest tickets. Coaches are cheaper, but are only half as fast as trains.
You can also takes ferries or trams, or go on a walking tour.
Students get to go sightseeing and enjoy sites such as the Lake District and the Yorkshire moors, the hills and mountains of Scotland and Wales, the coastline in all parts of the UK, World Heritage Sites such as the Stonehenge, and the birthplace of Shakespeare.
Clubs organize trips to these places, besides get-togethers, and festival celebrations.
Universities organize “Fresher’s Week,” which helps break the ice. Traditional museums and contemporary art galleries are attractions, too.
Many students organize or go to parties, but there are options such as pubs and restaurants, concert halls, music and theater festivals, and other cultural events.
Local authorities, colleges, and private clubs have sports and fitness centers. You can also participate in organized sports activities, some of which are part of charitable events such as the London Marathon.
UK cities are public-transport-friendly and there’s really no need for a car, especially for students. But you feel you just have to own a car, remember the costs involved, such as petrol and maintenance.
If you’re a foreign student who has a driver’s licence from a non-EU country, you can drive in Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales, without Northern Ireland) for 12 months.
If you get caught without a driver’s licence, insurance, or vehicle fitness certificate, the charges may affect your student visa.
Food and cuisine
Students can, of course, cook for themselves and keep in touch with the food they are used to.
There are supermarket and smaller groceries where produce and provisions of many countries are available, thanks to the diversity of the country.
Meals and cuisines from every part of the world are also available. Supermarkets store ingredients from Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc., and the organic produce is also plentiful as the British are becoming healthy eaters.
The English breakfast is famous all over the world and so is fish and chips.
Some international students may find British “bland,” and even the Indian curries, which are popular, are much milder on the tongue.
British food is mostly made up of meat, potatoes, and other vegetables. It’s a good idea to learn to cook at least some basic dishes before you leave home, as depending on restaurants and fast-food joints is not always a good option.
But eating out is popular and restaurants offer a wide variety of cuisines, some offering special rates for students. It’s a good idea to prepare and share a tasty traditional meal to make some good friends.
It is no taboo to drink moderate amounts of alcohol, and pubs and wine bars are social venues, too.
However, teetotalers also have a choice of tea or coffee, and many coffee bars dot UK towns and cities.
In the UK, tap water is potable by default, unless labelled “Not for drinking.”
In 2020, the tuition fee for international students in the UK ranged from £10,000 to £26,000 annually for lecture-based undergraduate programs (£58,600 for the UG medical program annually).
Postgraduate programs are more expensive and the fee depends on the university.
The average student rent in 2020 was £126 per week (£182 in London) or £500 per month (£720).
A restaurant meal could cost £12, a cinema ticket £10, monthly travel pass £60, and monthly utilities £140.
For a Tier-4 student visa (2019, as per Numbeo), you will need £1,015 per month or £12,180 a year for living expenses (£1,265 a month or £15,180 a year in London).
The last thing you want is to land in the UK and realize you don’t have accommodation. So sort this out before you arrive.
The first place to go to is your own university, which may have place for you in its “halls of residence” — some universities have halls exclusively for international students and first-year students are generally given preference.
The advantage of staying on the campus is that you can make friends with students from your own department and like-minded people more quickly.
You can choose between catered and self-catered categories; the latter will certainly work out a lot cheaper.
One major advantage that UK university halls have is that rooms are single occupancy, unlike in the US, where it is double occupancy, and that they are cheaper.
You can also rent a room in private lodging. Landlords in your university area will be available to let out studios or one-bedroom flats.
You can also board with a local family, which will help improve your social interaction and English skills.
Graduate students with families can request for special accommodation.
Part-time jobs are a great way to earn an income and bring down the financial burden of studying in the UK.
But it may not help you meet the entire living costs and may also distract you from your studies if you take on too much.
If you are from a non-EU country, you can work 20 hours a week and full time during the holidays. But this depends on a number of factors, and you will have to check your eligibility.
The national minimum pay for part-time work is £7.38 per hour for 21-24-year-olds, and £7.83 for 25-year-olds and older.
Day in the life
Here’s a day in the life of a first-year Curating and Art History student at the University of York’s Halifax College (paraphrased):
- I get up early as I have to join my professor and my team for the Wednesday field trip, to the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield this week. We are supposed to assemble at the York station at 8.45 am.
- It’s 9.20, and on the train, I join a debate over an observation made during a lecture the day before.
- We are at the gallery at 10.30 and are taken on a guided tour by a curator.
- At 1.50 pm, I leave Sheffield and hurry back to college for my French (optional) class.
- After class, my friend and I have a late lunch, practising our French.
- At 6, I return to my college, where I also live, write down notes, and unwind. As I’m tired from all the walking around the gallery in the morning, I make a light supper and go to sleep early.
From a first-year English in Education student (paraphrased):
- 7.30 am-8.30 am: I wake up to a picturesque scene of frost-covered.
- 9 am-10 am: I attend a seminar on Critical and Creative Approaches to English, which is a discussion and recap on a previous lecture.
- 11 am-1 pm: Time to organize my lecture notes and complete assignments; I can choose any place to study, library, departmental areas, cafes, or my room.
- 2 pm-3 pm: Last lecture, on “Perspectives on Education”.
- Later, as I have done some good work, I can relax with friends, and this evening we plan to get together at my favorite restaurant in the city center of York.
greenery; I know the importance of breakfast and prepare one before heading out.
Get in touch with us if you need professional help to get into the top programs in the UK.
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