Here are some answers to common questions about studying and living in the UK:
Q. Which university is best for studying...?
A. Ranking universities for their quality of teaching in various subjects in ‘league tables’ is not precise. Many respected people both in universities and out do not have a high opinion of league tables. However, as long as they are not considered the only method of choosing a university, they can be useful. The main UK national newspapers that publish annual league tables of UK educational institutions are The Times, The Sunday Times, The Financial Times, The Independent and The Guardian. By looking at them for the same subject, you will notice that they often come up with different results. Use them as a rough guide only.
In terms of research, however, then there are reports made every five or six years by the UK Higher Education Funding Councils. Their Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) provides a comprehensive peer review of departments’ research and grades each subject discipline (in one of the 67 units of assessment (UOA) in the RAE) in each university from Unclassified (the lowest) to 4* (the highest). The results of the latest (2008) RAE can be found at www.rae.ac.uk.
Teaching Quality Information (TQI) for institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (plus some Scottish ones) is available on the Unistats website. This gives a broader picture of what it is like to study at these institutions as the TQI data is made up of the National Student Survey (NSS), plus in-depth official UK government statistics concerning students at these institutions, including their career paths after graduation.
You can also look at Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) institutional audits and also see whether an institution or course is professionally accredited as well. There are many pieces of information available to help you decide whether a course or institution is the one for you.
Q. Will I miss out by choosing a distance-learning course instead of actually studying in the UK?
A. A distance-learning course will give you the same high-quality qualification as having studied in the UK. However, there are some things you should consider. Living in the UK will improve your English (if it isn’t your first language), you will meet many new friends and potential contacts for work, it will broaden your knowledge of the world, and it’s fun! There may be some cases where having a distance-learning course might mean your future salary is slightly lower than if you studied a full-time course, but these are rare and the difference is minimal.
Q. What is the difference between traditional A-levels and A-levels in applied subjects?
A. Traditional A-levels are purely academic. A-levels in applied subjects combine practical work-related training and academic study. They are available in a range of topics directly applicable to industry, like applied ICT, engineering and applied business, and are made up of six (three AS plus three A2) units of study. Double Award A-levels made up of 12 units are also available. They are increasingly being taught at more and more further education institutions throughout the UK.
Q. I don’t have the grades I need to get onto the course I want. What can I do?
A. Many colleges have access courses validated by a university that allow you to prepare for a degree course. They last from six months to a year and teach you a variety of subjects, including the one you plan to study – English, study skills, research and more. They are sometimes called foundation, bridging or preparatory courses as well.
Q. I don’t know whether my qualifications will be accepted by a UK university. How can I find out?
A. There are two organisations that can help you find out: the British Council, which has offices all over the world, and UK NARIC, the UK National Recognition Information Centre. They may have slightly different standards, but it should give you an idea of what the universities are looking for.
Q. How much does a postgraduate course cost in the UK?
A. For each academic year, you can expect to pay £8,000 to £13,000 for classroom-based courses, £9,000 to £16,000 for laboratory or workshop-based courses and £11,000 to over £26,000 for clinical courses. These are estimates only and can vary with institution and location. International students will pay ‘overseas’ fee rates that are higher than ‘home’ fees for UK residents, which are subsidised by the UK government. You may qualify for these lower fees if you are classed as a UK resident or you come from an EU member country. Your institution will have the final say on whether you qualify.
Q. How much will it cost to support myself during a postgraduate course?
A. For one academic year of nine months, the current estimate is about £7,000 for London and £6,000 for elsewhere (£800 a month in London and £650 a month elsewhere). This should cover the cost of accommodation, heating, lighting, food, clothing, books and daily travel. These are estimates only and can vary with institution and location.
Q. Will I be allowed to work while I am studying?
A. If your course lasts six months or more, you will be allowed to work part time for up to 20 hours a week during term time and full time during the holidays, subject to certain restrictions. The sort of job that would allow you to only work this amount and still fit it around your studies would probably be working in a bar, pub or restaurant, although there may be some available in a factory or warehouse as well. Remember, though, that you cannot rely on this to fund your studies and also your institution may not be happy about your doing this if it puts pressure on the time available for your studies.
Q. What kind of financial help or funding is available to international students?
A. It is almost impossible to make arrangements for financial aid and funding once you have left your home country. Start by contacting your own country’s ministry or department of education. How much you are eligible for and under what conditions will vary depending on each country. It may be a grant, but more countries are switching to loans instead, which you pay back once you have a job.
Scholarships are another option. There will be many different types available, as your own government and the UK government, plus many other organisations, bodies and institutions, will be interested in encouraging the best from your country to study abroad (see the scholarships section for more). Competition for scholarships is fierce and you should make sure you apply early. For all scholarships, you must show academic merit and research potential.
Q. When should I organise somewhere to live?
A. It is strongly advised that you find somewhere to live before you leave your home country. Your university will send you information on your accommodation choices, whether renting from the university itself or from recommended private landlords. If you cannot, then at least book a few days in a hotel or hostel before you leave to give yourself a base while you look around for somewhere to stay. Again, your university should be able to recommend a suitable place for you.
Q. What sorts of accommodation are there?
A. The most common type is halls of residence. These are accommodation blocks where each student as their own room. Some of the newer ones have rooms that have their own toilet and shower (en suite), but usually you share with about ten other people. Self-catering halls have kitchens for about the same number of people, where you can cook your own food. Catered halls have a dining hall where you are served at least two meals a day: breakfast and dinner. Halls will have cleaners and may have a laundry for bedclothes. Bills for electricity, lighting, heating and water will be included in the rent.
As well as halls of residence, you can rent flats and houses. University owned flats and houses could be on campus or off it, otherwise you can rent from private landlords. They are usually for groups of friends who have decided to live together, but sometimes strangers are put together in them as well, which are called bedsits. They provide more privacy and freedom than halls, but do require you to be organised enough to pay bills and clean up after yourself.
It is recommended that international students live in halls as this gives them more support and it is easier to meet people socially. Most institutions guarantee international students a place in halls for their first year for this reason.
Q. Will I have to pay for medical treatment in the UK?
A. The UK has a National Health Service (NHS) that provides free and subsidised health care. As an international student, you will be eligible for free treatment if your course is over six months and you are studying in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or if your course is of any duration and you are studying in Scotland, or you are an EU citizen. You will only be expected to pay a subsidised rate for prescription drugs and dental care. There are some countries outside of the EU that have a reciprocal agreement with the UK to provide free health care, which includes Australia, New Zealand and Russia, among others. The list changes, so check with your local British Embassy first. Treatment only covers those illnesses that develop after entry into the UK not before. You should check to see what will be covered before coming to the UK. If you are not a member of the EU or on this list, you will have to pay full costs. As this can be expensive, consider health insurance.
Q. What should I do in a medical emergency?
A. Stay calm and phone 999. The phone call is free, including from mobiles (cells). The operator will transfer you to ambulance dispatch, who will send an ambulance and can talk you through some first aid until the paramedics arrive. Alternatively, if the injury is not immediately life threatening, contact NHS Direct, which will give you health advice and information about what to do, or you could go to the local accident and emergency department. All treatment is free wherever you come from, but further treatment in the hospital outside of the department may cost you, unless you are covered by the NHS.
Q. Where do I find a local doctor?
A. If you are going to live on campus, the university will register you with their own doctor, a general practitioner or GP. This GP may have a surgery on campus or nearby. Even if the doctor is not working at the university all the time, there is likely to be a nurse on duty during the day as well. If you are not going to live on campus, then you may still be able to register with the university doctor. If not or if you are living quite a long way from the university, you will be able to find a list of GPs and doctors’ surgeries and health centres in the local phone book or on the NHS Direct website. Many are very busy and may not be able to register you. If you have problems registering with a GP, contact your local primary care trust (England and Scotland), central services agency (Northern Ireland) or local health board (Wales), and it will be able to assign you to one.
Q. I’m feeling depressed and homesick. What should I do?
A. Stress and homesickness are common feelings for students at university, and most institutions will have a trained counsellor on campus. The service is free and you should go whenever you feel like you are not coping. Don’t ignore your problems and hope that they will go away by themselves. Counsellors will happily listen to any worries or concerns you may have. If they think the situation is serious enough, they will refer you to the GP for medication, which you should not feel ashamed about. If things get this bad, always mention it to your lecturer as well, so that they are aware of any problems that may affect your work.
Q. Do I need a visa to study in the UK?
A. You will need one if you are a visa national, ie:
stateless (you don’t have a nationality),
a holder of a non-national document, or
a holder of a passport or travel document issued by the former Soviet Union or by the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The only exceptions are students with a British passport or nationals of the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA). All countries that are members of the European Union (EU) are also members of the EEA, as are Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
If you have any doubts about whether you qualify for entry, you should apply for a visa before you travel to the UK.
The UK Border Agency Visa Services website has a ‘Do I need a visa?’ section to help you find out if you need a visa to come to the UK.
Q. What are the different types of student visa?
A. International students come under the category ‘Tier 4 Immigrants’ in the new points-based system for UK visas.
There are two types of student category in Tier 4:
Adult Student (or General Student) – if you are coming to the UK for your post-16 education.
Child Student – for those aged between 4 and 17 coming to the UK for their education, including studying at independent fee-paying schools.
The following other options remain outside the points-based system:
Student Visitor (or Child Visitor if 17 or under) – if you are only studying in the UK for six months or less. However, this is a more restrictive category in that you will not be allowed to work at all during your studies or extend your leave to remain in the UK beyond the six months. It is also not possible to change this to an Adult Student visa while in the UK.
Prospective Student – if you want to come to the UK to find a course of study or if you plan to start a course of study within six months. It will be possible to switch from this category and apply for an Adult or Child Student visa while you are in the UK.
Special arrangements apply for 16- and 17-year-old students coming to the UK for more than six months’ study. The UK Border Agency Visa Services website explains this further.
Q. How are the points awarded under the new Scheme
A. To be able to apply for a student visa, you have to accumulate 40 points, as follows:
Studying a course at an acceptable level with an approved education provider (also known as sponsorship) (30 points).
Being able to cover your course fees and monthly living costs, and able to support yourself for the entire duration of your stay without use of public funds (10 points).
A fuller explanation of the requirements can be found on the UK Border Agency website.
Q. How do I get a visa to study in the UK?
A. You can apply in a number of ways, for example, by post, by courier, in person or online. (Some visa application centres or British missions overseas that offer a visa service will only accept online applications.) If you cannot apply online, you will need to fill in a visa application form, available, free of charge, from your nearest visa application centre or British mission overseas that offers a visa service, or as a download. For more information, visit the UK Border Agency Visa Services website.
Q. How much does a visa cost?
A. The following fees are effective for all visa applications made from 10 January 2011:
Points-based system Tier 4
Non points-based system
Student visitor – English language course only (stay allowed for up to 11 months): £70
Chevening Scholarship or Fellowship: free of charge
British Marshall Scholarship: free of charge
Fulbright Scholarship: free of charge
Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan: free of charge
Although all the fees for applications outside the UK are quoted in pounds sterling, you can usually pay them in your local currency. Your nearest visa application centre or British mission overseas that offers a visa service will have more information on what the local fees are and how you can pay.
Fees are regularly reviewed, so for the very latest information visit the UK Boarder Agency website.
Q. Can I visit campuses before I choose a course?
A. Yes. The Prospective Student visa allows you to stay in the UK to do this for up to six months. You will have to prove that you intend to follow a course of study but that you have not yet been accepted onto a recognised course of study at an approved UK institution, and that you will be able to support yourself financially during this period and not work while in the UK. Should you then be accepted on a course, you can then apply while in the UK to switch to an Adult or Child Student visa under the Points-based Scheme. You will have to follow the normal requirements for this, including getting a ‘Visa Letter’ from the institution you have chosen.
Q. Can I bring my family to the UK?
A. Your husband, wife or civil partner and any of your children under 18 can come to the UK with you during your studies. However, an application for entry clearance will have to be made for each of them, and they will have to meet a series of requirements in order to be successful. See the UKCISA Information Sheet Your family’s immigration for more detail as to what requirements will have to be fulfilled.
Q. How will I be able to travel in the UK? Will I need to buy a car? Can I use my driving licence from my home country?
A. Travelling around the UK is easy. There is plenty of public transport – trains, buses and coaches – for local and longer journeys. The roads are in good condition, although London is obviously very crowded. Even cyclists have their own cycle route network, which is expanding all the time. Most students are happy with walking where they need to, as most things they need will be in the surrounding area.
If you do want to buy a car, then you must be at least 17 years old and have a valid licence. When you buy the car, it must have insurance, valid road tax, be registered in your name and have a valid MOT certificate (proof from a mechanic that it is roadworthy) if the car is over three years old. Be aware that petrol is likely to be more expensive than you are used to. Your own licence will be OK for a year, but, after that, you may need to sit a test to be allowed to continue to drive in the UK (although if you are from the EEA, you can drive for as long as your own licence remains valid). See the UKCISA Information Sheet Driving in the United Kingdom: A guide for international students for more details.
Q. How can I find out more about British culture while I am studying?
A. Students sometimes find themselves cocooned in campus life and don’t really experience British culture. One way around this is to stay with a UK family in their home. HOST (Hosting for Overseas Students) can arrange for you to stay with a suitable family either for the weekend, Christmas or full time. It’s a great way to see how the British who aren’t students live. You will only have to pay for your travel there and any family you have with you will be welcome as well. More information can be found on the HOST website.