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Your Complete Guide to Living and Studying in the UK

All you need to know about being an international student in the United Kingdom.

One of the more prominent cultural hubs in Europe, the United Kingdom (UK), has often been associated with academic excellence and a thriving, inclusive community that many international students revel in.

A degree from a UK university is internationally respected, plus the country is credited with producing 14% of the world’s most cited academic papers and 5% of the world’s scientific research.

These figures are all the more impressive considering the countries that comprise the United Kingdom are home to just 1% of the world’s population. UK’s universities have a reputation for fostering genius across a multiplicity of disciplines, with luminaries such as Ernest Rutherford (the father of nuclear physics) to Oscar Wilde (acclaimed Irish writer and playwright) graduating from notable UK tertiary institutions.

Why Study in the UK

1. The economy

The United Kingdom’s economy is huge. In fact, it’s the sixth largest in the world and it has enjoyed steady economic growth until the current world economic downturn. In essence though, businesses are still growing and people are finding work.

2. Education

The UK fulfils the criteria for many students’ needs and has some of the best universities in the world, including Cambridge and Oxford.

3. Healthcare

Not every country in the world has a solid healthcare system. In fact, very few have a National Health Service (NHS) like the UK. Legal residents in the UK have access to free healthcare. International students can access the NHS upon payment of the International Health Surcharge (IHS). More details are available from the Health Advice and Services for International Students section of this guide.

4. Culture

There are few places with such a rich culture as the UK. With its mixed ethnic population and a long and interesting history, it is a fascinating place to explore.

5. The UK is geographically well placed

The UK is ideally placed for taking short trips to other countries. Many European destinations can be reached in just a few hours from London, which makes it a great travel hub.

Education System in the UK

When it comes to world university rankings, the UK has a proven track record. In the 2017-18 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge rank number one and two, with Imperial College London at number eight. Across all global ranking systems, criteria and fields of study, the UK ranks highly for quality of education, student satisfaction and global reputation.

Then there’s the UK’s reputation for innovation and world-class research, where you will benefit from the latest facilities alongside a long-standing academic tradition. Many students choose the UK higher education system to perfect their English and improve their employability.

How it works

Within the UK, responsibility for education is delegated to each of the four jurisdictions: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are differences between the four countries in the educational systems in place, the qualifications offered, and how these are regulated. The differences are most pronounced in general and secondary education. As a result, there are several different qualifications and credit frameworks.

Teaching and learning style

UK education has a reputation for excellence and most international students highly rate the quality of teaching they receive. You can expect to be taught in many different ways. Most students attend lectures and seminars and they sometimes have tutorials and workshops, too.

During a UK course, you are likely to be given great freedom to explore your own ideas and to be creative. You may be expected to be an active member of the teaching and learning process, where you will do your own research or work in groups with other students for some projects. UK universities encourage the development of critical and analytical thinking in every subject, which can be a little daunting for some international students at first. However, this develops a deeper understanding of the subject at hand and the communication skills needed.

UK education is very interactive, too. Tutors will encourage you to share ideas and may organise activities, such as debates, discussions and quizzes. The idea is that by having fun and getting involved, you will learn more successfully. This way of learning might feel daunting at first, but students should receive lots of support from their tutors and with a little time should soon feel at ease. 

Higher education

Most destinations offer a variety of pathways for both domestic and international students to make the transition into further education; these programs are typically referred to as either pathways or foundation courses.

Higher education courses can be taken by students to earn an advanced degree and continue their studies in the UK. There are three main types of higher education, which lead to bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.

Bachelor or undergraduate degrees

Academic study in undergraduate degrees is designed to help students gain a thorough understanding of a subject. Degrees are classified as either ordinary or honours. An ‘ordinary’ degree is usually a three-year full-time course, whereas an ‘honours’ degree is usually a four-year full-time course.

Postgraduate study

If you are finishing your bachelor degree, how do you know if undertaking postgraduate study in the UK is the next step for you? Deciding to go on to postgraduate study is a big step. It means sacrificing more time and staying out of the workforce a bit longer, but it can also be a very worthwhile investment in the long term.

Pathway programs

There are also many pathway programs into higher education for international students including foundation studies and English language preparation programs. These ensure students receive the extra support and assistance they need to succeed.

Academic year

In the UK, the standard academic year starts in September or October and runs until June or July. Some courses are more flexible, however, and offer a range of start dates. The typical deadline for applications for undergraduate university entry commencing in September is in the preceding January of that year. There’s also a smaller January intake that has limited undergraduate, master, PhD and foundation courses available. Private pathway providers also may offer additional start dates throughout the year.

Learning English

The UK is the top destination worldwide for English language study (Study Travel Magazine, December 2012). The UK has long been at the forefront of language teaching and pioneered many of the techniques now used around the world. The emphasis is on learning through fun and participation instead of just listening to the teacher. Classes involve games, problem solving and discussions. Students might also listen to songs, watch television or read magazines to practise their comprehension skill. Many English language courses are also offered by universities and colleges to help international students prepare for a degree course in the UK. Universities use the term ‘pre-sessional English courses’ for these degree preparation programs.

The UK Government has announced important changes to language testing for visa applications, reducing the number of tests accepted for visa purposes and bringing in new requirements for the way the tests are administered. IELTS, the world’s most popular high-stakes test of English for higher education and global migration, has been approved for all UK visas that require applicants to provide proof of their level of English.

IELTS Academic, IELTS General Training and IELTS Life Skills are accepted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) as proof of English proficiency. However, the student’s purpose for being in the UK dictates which IELTS test they need to pursue.

English language requirements

You must provide evidence of your knowledge of the English language when you apply for your visa. This usually means passing a secure English language test like IELTS.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) have minimum English language requirements for reading, writing, listening and speaking according to your level of study. Your education institution (sponsor) may have different English language requirements.

There is a chance you may be interviewed by a UKVI officer as part of the visa application process. If you cannot hold a simple conversation without an interpreter, you may be refused entry to the UK, regardless of your English language results.

The UK Culture and Way of Life

It’s likely you’ve already got a pretty good picture of the UK in your head. It’s one of the world’s most recognisable countries and its influence is seen across the globe.

The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So you could travel from the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland, to the Isles of Scilly in south west England, and then across the sea to Northern Ireland – all without leaving the UK.

Approximately 65 million people call the UK home, with most based in England. The capital city of the UK and England – London – is by far the biggest city in the country. Like the rest of the UK, the London is proudly multicultural and multi-faith. You will be expected to respect other people’s religious beliefs, as they are expected to respect yours.

English is the official language of the UK, but isn’t the only native language. You may also hear Welsh in Wales; Gaelic and Scots in Scotland, Irish Gaelic in Northern Ireland and Cornish in Cornwall. Your English skills will be more than enough to see you through your daily travels however, as it’s spoken fluently across the country.

Cost of Living in the UK

You want to enjoy a healthy and happy study life in the UK. Knowing how much you need to for living expenses is a great starting point, but keep in mind the cost of living may be higher or lower depending on where you live.

The UK Government suggests you will need:

• £1,265 per month if you live in London for the majority (more than 50 percent) of your study

• £1,015 per month if you live outside London for the majority of your study (more than 50 percent of study time)

These figures do not include the cost of your study or tuition fees.

There are some handy websites you can use to help budget for your time in the UK. One option is Expatistan, which calculates the cost of living in the UK using up-to-date, crowd-sourced data.


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