The UK is one of the world’s most popular places to study in the world. With more than 400 universities and higher education colleges to choose from, it provides a level of choice to students that few countries of similar size can match.
Among all those options, the UK boasts some of the best-known and most well-respected education institutions on the planet. UK universities and colleges are widely respected for their exceptional teaching standards. Earning a degree in the UK helps you stand out from the crowd and get ahead in your chosen career.
On top of all that, with thriving student populations in dozens of towns and cities around the country, the UK offers a vibrant studying experience unlike any other. No wonder so many international students from all corners of the Earth flock here to study. There are currently more than 600,000 overseas nationals studying in the UK, making a major contribution to a world-class education culture.
So what do you need to know if you have your sights set on joining that number and travelling to the UK to study? Here’s a brief run-through of the basics.
Applying to study in the UK
There are two parts to applying to study in the UK as an international student. First, you have to find and be accepted onto a course. After that, you have to apply for a student visa.
The British Council website is a good place to start looking for courses in your chosen subject. Or, if you prefer, you can pick a particular university, college or location and look at what courses are available there.
How you apply depends on the type of course and the type of institution you want to study at. For all undergraduate / bachelor’s degrees, there is a central registration system called UCAS. Once you register with UCAS, the system will handle the application process for your chosen course and institution on your behalf. For post-graduate degrees or non-degree courses at colleges, you usually have to apply through the institution directly.
Once you have received and accepted an offer for a course, you then have to apply for a student visa. Post-Brexit, this also now applies to students coming from the EU. To be eligible for a student visa, you have to already have an offer of a place on a course and be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself financially. Your visa will usually last for the duration of your course.
Fees and funding
On the subject of supporting yourself financially, you have to pay fees to enrol on any higher education course in the UK. Overseas students have to pay more than UK students because they are not eligible for government subsidies. That can make studying on some courses expensive, although the cost ranges from around £3,500 to £18,000 per year, depending on the type of course and institution.
On top of this, you have to be able to prove you have the means to pay for accommodation and other living costs for the duration of your course in order to be granted a visa.
International students should look into any financial assistance available in their home country for studying abroad. But on top of this, there are a range of scholarships available in the UK designed to support overseas students. These range from schemes that will part fund your fees to much larger scholarships that will pay your fees, your accommodation costs and even your flights to and from the UK.
Studying in English when it is a second language
Another requirement for being granted a student visa is that you must be able to speak, read and write English fluently. However, being fluent in a second language and studying in that language at degree level are two different things. For a start, academic language is very different from ordinary everyday language. It is often full of technical terms, while academic texts have their own style and very precise rules. To succeed as a student, you have to master reading, writing and understanding academic language.
If you have no experience of studying in English, it’s recommended that you consider a programme of study before you start your full degree course to prepare you for the challenges of studying in a second language. In the UK, these are known as foundation year routes. These often take the form of four-year courses as opposed to the usual three years for a full-time undergraduate degree. The first year is the ‘foundation year’ that brings you up to speed with the specialist knowledge, language and study skills required to succeed at degree level.
These four-year options are designed to give anyone a little extra help in reaching the skill levels required to take a bachelor’s degree, including anyone looking to study in English when it is not their first language. However, there are also options geared more specifically to the needs of international students. The International Foundation Programme, for example, is a standalone one-year course that focuses on developing language skills in an academic context, alongside general study skills. There are also similar courses available from NCUK which include English for Academic Purposes (EAP) modules, and guarantee you a pathway onto a full degree course once you have completed it.