Middle Eastern students in the UK
Moving to the UK to study is a big decision. Here’s some information especially for students from the Middle East that may help you make up your mind!
Middle Eastern students are in an unusual situation at UK universities in that, unlike other regions of the world, no single country dominates in terms of numbers. The Middle East has no equivalent to the position of the Chinese among East Asian students, or the Nigerians among African students, and this makes the Middle Eastern experience of studying in the UK a very equitable one.
As a Middle Eastern student you will never find yourself being dominated by your national group nor will you find another national group over-defining your region.
Where are all the Middle Eastern students and what do they study?
Which Middle Eastern countries supply the most students?
The top ten Middle Eastern countries in terms of the number of students enrolled on UK higher education programmes in 2009/10 were:
Saudi Arabia (8,341)
United Arab Emirates (2,993)
Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10
In terms of numbers, see the two box outs on this web page. Most UK universities have between 50 and 300 students from the Middle East, and in a way this is the perfect number: just big enough to give you a network of support and just small enough to make certain that you cannot hang around with lots of your fellow nationals, speaking your own language and staying within your own culture.
One Lebanese male postgraduate, quoted in a report into international student experiences of the UK, said about his Study UK experience: ‘It broadened my horizons beyond expectation, the people I have met come from so many different backgrounds and cultures. It also gave me ideas and self-exploration, knowing more what I want to do. It changed my direction in life.’
Where can you get help?
So, what support can you expect while you are here? Apart from a dedicated International Office and tuition in English language, UK universities will offer a combination of support activities: Foundation Programmes targeted at 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), 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.
What about accommodation: where will I live?
At what level do Middle Eastern students study in the UK?
A total of 25,025 students from the region were studying in the UK in 2009/10, broken down as follows:
- undergraduate: 10,818
- postgraduate: 14,207
Source: HESA Student Record 2009/10
According to the International Office at Leeds University, students from the Middle East have specific expectations in terms of accommodation and facilities within the local community. It is worth checking out what accommodation is on offer as coming from a relatively wealthy part of the world your expectations may be higher than the average international students. The universities that aim to be attractive to students from the Middle East will have taken this into account. These universities may also have established female-only accommodation, as well as having accommodation suitable for families, both of which may be more important to Middle Eastern students. Families of course require schools, play groups and relevant English language tuition as well as the possibility of there being Arabic schools nearby, and this will tend to limit your choice to the biggest cities or to towns with quite large Muslim populations. It may also be worth investigating what facilities for prayer there are on campus as some universities will make lecture theatres available for Friday prayers and separate prayer facilities for both men and women with separate washroom areas.
Another area that International Officers suggest can be of concern is the cultural difference in learning styles. 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 though, that there is always help available.
Useful links for Middle Eastern students living and studying in the UK