Going to University Abroad
Why study abroad?
With tuition fees on the increase, it’s tempting to up sticks and study at a university abroad. More and more English students are leaving the UK for the lure of an education overseas, from the red bricks of Ivy League American universities to the cheaper fees of Dutch institutions.
You may picture yourself sporting a beret, debating Sartre with sophisticated French students in Paris, or shaking your booty at a university in South America (what do you mean people don’t samba to lectures in Brazil?). Approximately 20,000 UK students are currently studying in other countries, so you certainly aren’t the first to consider it.
So what are the benefits? Going international shows a flexibility and maturity. It might even give you an edge, as many employers are looking for people with international experience and language skills. Equally, it’s a way of sampling education you wouldn’t experience in the UK, and it’s a way of escaping escalating tuition fees.
You’ll need to start planning way ahead. Aeons before everyone else is dithering about with their UCAS application, you should be researching countries and their educational institutions. Be careful when choosing an institution, you’ll need to make sure it is properly accredited in your country of study.
Check The Times Higher Education World University Rankings to see where different universities rank. It sounds obvious but before you go bounding into anything you need to make sure your chosen institute welcomes international students.
Other countries might have different educational values and systems. For example, UK universities are largely about independent study, whereas some other foreign universities put more emphasis on teacher-directed education and set texts.
Be sure to find out what kind of learning the university champions and whether you think that will suit you. This means checking out the course too. Research the different modules you can take, figure out if it’s predominantly project or coursework-based, and find out how the course is assessed. Acclimatising to a different educational culture might be tougher than you think.
You’ll also need to check out whether the qualification you’ll receive is accredited. For example if you want to work in the UK afterwards, you’ll need to make sure your qualification is recognised. Contact UK NARIC (National Academic Recognition & Information Centre) to get advice on the recognition of foreign qualifications in the UK. The Bologna Process has made most degrees across Europe more comparable, but unfortunately this doesn’t apply to other international degrees.
If you’re planning on studying outside of the EU, the likelihood is that you’ll have to apply for a student visa. You might have to arrange a residence permit and complete other paperwork too. Each country comes with its own red tape, so get in contact with the ministry of education in that country, or the international office at your chosen institution. Otherwise, you could try contacting the embassy or consulate in the UK for help.
Applying to university abroad
Very few countries have a centralised application process like UCAS (aren’t we great?), so the likelihood is that you’ll have to apply to individual institutions. Get to know the country’s individual admissions systems. For example, Australia has a centralised admissions centre for Australian permanent residents, but international students are usually accepted directly by individual institutions.
There may be different entrance requirements for different courses, so make sure you swot up on them before you apply. For example, studying in Barcelona might be fantástico but you might have to take a Spanish language test to see if your Spanish skills are up to scratch.
You’ll need to find out whether the foreign universities will accept your current qualifications in the admission process and whether any supplementary tests are required. The best thing to do is contact the individual institutions themselves and ask them what you’ll need to do.
Will I need to speak another language?
A growing number of universities in non-English speaking countries have courses taught in English. Yet, that doesn’t mean you can get away with speaking English all the time; you’ll be living in a foreign country, so you’ll need a good basic knowledge of the local language (speaking very loudly and slowly in English simply won’t cut the mustard). Taking a language course before you go is definitely advisable. You’ll also need to acclimatise to a new culture, which can be quite challenging in itself.
Many institutions will require you to show a basic grasp of the language. But don’t worry, many offer language courses alongside your degree to help develop those language skills. There’ll also usually be plenty of help for foreign students adjusting to different cultural and academic customs.
Funding for international students
Check out the price tag. Depending on what country you go to, tuition fees could be higher or lower than they are in the UK. Make sure you check how much they charge international students, and find out if your chosen institution offers any scholarships, grants or bursaries for foreign undergraduates.
Remember, you won’t be eligible for a student loan from the UK government, so it’s important that you plan out exactly how you’re going to fund your time at university. For instance, if you’re going to a country in the EU, you might be able to get financial help from the appropriate agency in the country.
Here’s how your rights currently stand: you can’t be charged higher tuition fees than domestic students, you’re entitled to the same grants to cover the costs of fees (although not any maintenance or support loans), and you’ll also have the right to work in the country. Some countries even provide maintenance grants to foreign students, although this is not the case for every EU country.
Outside the EU, you’ll find yourself subject to different procedures. Different countries will have different rules about your right to work and your access to funding. You’re also likely to be charged higher tuition fees than domestic students. Of course, it’s not just about budgeting for tuition fees; you’ll need to take into account other living costs, such as accommodation, food and travel.
A few charities and education trusts offer grants for overseas students. There are some overseas bodies that award funding; for example, the Fulbright awards scheme in the US, the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan, or EU schemes for postgraduate students such as the Marie Curie scheme.
If you don’t fancy going the whole hog, plenty of UK universities allow students to spend a year studying abroad as part of the Erasmus scheme.