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Students from CIS states in the UK

Moving to the UK to study is a big decision. Here’s some information especially for students from CIS member countries, which may help you make up your mind!

Students from CIS member countries are not the largest group of international students on UK campuses. Even Russia only has nearly 3,000 students here (China in comparison has over 12 times this number), while there are just over 500 from the Ukraine, with the other nationalities in the tens or hundreds.

Fast facts

Which CIS member countries supply the most students?

The top five CIS member countries in terms of the number of students enrolled on UK higher education programmes in 2009/10 were:

Russia (3,247)
Kazakhstan (2,085)
Ukraine (606)
Azerbaijan (302)
Georgia (265)

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

However, the fact that you come from one of the countries that sends fewer people to the UK, is not a bad thing at all! The great advantage of being something of a pioneer is that you cannot hang around with lots of your fellow nationals, speaking your own language and staying within your own culture. Being a pioneer forces you to get out and speak to different people, with new friendships and fantastic experiences being the result.
Get involved!
Rakhim Mirzayev is a Kazakhstani student of Economics and Business with Eastern European studies at University College, London. If you are to make the most of your time in the UK, he advises you to get involved as soon as you arrive.

‘It is important to get involved straight away or you will be left alone,’ he says. ‘Be proactive, not passive. If someone invites you to anything, even if it is just coffee, don’t pretend you have other things to do. You should accept every invitation you are given and always get involved in something on campus. In my case it was becoming a student ambassador for my country and it has really helped me to create new friendships and support networks.’

A report into the experience of international students confirms that this approach works. The report, entitled ‘Broadening Our Horizons’, states that doing any type of activity on campus (clubs, societies, sports, drama, music or volunteering) will lead to having more UK friends.

What help is available?
Fast facts

At what level do CIS students study in the UK?

A total of 7,217 students from the region were studying in the UK in 2009/10, broken down as follows:

  • undergraduate: 3,789
  • postgraduate: 3,428

Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10

But what can you expect in terms of official support from your university? Apart from a dedicated International Office and tuition in English language, UK universities will offer a combination of support activities: Foundation Programmes targeted an international students, Job Shops (which will help find part-time work), Careers Services (for longer-term employment), Accommodation Officers, buddy schemes (which pair you with a more experienced fellow national), student ambassadors (who lead activities for particular countries), dedicated facilities (such as international student lounges and halls of residence), and welcome orientations (which are usually free of charge). On top of this, there will be the student support offered by the student union and by volunteer societies. You will often find there will be a student society dedicated to your country or region where you can meet fellow nationals and UK students who are interested in where you come from.

Cultural differences
For Russian students in particular, there can sometimes be a clash of cultural expectations, between the behaviours they are and their families are familiar with, and British academic culture. Russian parents are perhaps more likely than those of other nationalities to involve themselves in their children’s higher education, and this may even lead them to wanting to get in touch with your tutor and discuss your progress. This is quite unusual in a UK context and it certainly could not happen without your permission.

Another area that may be of special concern to students from other CIS member countries is the cultural difference in learning styles. You will certainly have been told about the importance attached to challenging authority and to learning to argue and defend your own independent case, and you will undoubtedly have heard about the necessity for self-directed study.

Nevertheless, the lived experience can still be a bit of a shock. Student life here is much freer in terms of structuring your day than you will be used to. You will have less contact with tutors and your parents obviously won’t be around. All of this means you will have to develop quite a lot of self-discipline quite quickly. If you do run into difficulties here, it is important to remember this is all about cultural difference and nothing to do with you as an individual. Remember also, that there is always help available if you need it!

‘When I first came here I was quite surprised by the independence of UK students and the way they had to work on their own to meet their own deadlines,’ says Rakhim Mirzayev. ‘In Kazakhstan, the tutors always make sure you are studying or they will call your parents, and they do everything they can to make sure you get good grades. Here, it is much more meritocratic. If you work hard and in the right way, you will pass, but if you don’t, you fail.’

What you should do to prepare
Prior to arrival there are a number of preparations CIS students might wish to make, as compared to students from other parts of the world. According to International Officers at universities with a high number of Russian students, it is always advisable to make sure that you document where your financial support is coming from. While it is still unusual to have a bank account in Russia, having a written record or reference of your financial position can make it easier when passing through immigration into the UK.

Useful links for CIS Nationals living and studying in the UK

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