Why Study Abroad at a UK University?
Can a quarter-million of the world’s
brightest students be wrong? That’s one estimate of the number of
foreign students who forsake the comforts of home and brave the UK’s
food and, for many, forbidding weather to get the postgraduate
education they consider the key to a bright future in their homelands.
The British Council puts the total number of overseas students
currently studying in Britain – at all academic levels – at nearly one
million, with two-fifths of post-graduate students hailing from other
countries. The British government’s increasing recognition of the value
of this phenomenon to the British economy overall is likely to increase
its efforts to attract these students away from competing institutions
in other countries and to address the complex student-visa laws that
most overseas students cite as the greatest – and often the only –
disincentive to seeking graduate degrees in the UK.
Studying in the UK, rather than at comparable universities and colleges
in other countries, clearly remains the first choice of the largest
segment of the overseas student population.
The principle reason can be summed up in the single word the
23-year-old Uzbekistanian Tulkin Sultanov gave the BBC as his reason
for pursuing advanced studies in the UK: “reputation.” Worldwide, UK
universities are renowned for their high academic standards,
cutting-edge educational facilities (particularly in the sciences,
engineering and the arts), and broad range of offerings combined with
the flexibility to accommodate individual student needs.
Like many other students who eventually go to the UK itself, Sultanov
was educated in a British school in his homeland. As a result, he said,
he knew both that British teaching was high-quality, that the
professors at British universities had international reputations as
leaders in their fields – and, crucially, that alumni of British
universities enjoyed a level of professional success on return to their
homeland that made them the envy of their generation.
UK universities and colleges are continuously evaluated by professional
bodies to ensure that their teaching and research standards and their
facilities are at the highest standards. The result has been the more
important rating by the rest of the world, which at this point assumes
that any British post-graduate education is top rank. Because standards
are now known to be high at all levels, an unrivaled prestige attaches
to a master’s or doctoral degree earned at a British university.
Of the half-million Chinese students studying abroad annually, some
50,000 have chose the UK as their academic destination of choice,
together spending an estimated £550m a year on their UK
educations. Twenty-two-year-old Lin Disheng, a Chinese student featured
in another BBC story, followed his BS degree from Nottingham University
(where he earned first-class honors in e-commerce and digital business)
with a master’s degree programme at Oxford. Citing China’s rapid
industrialisation and economic growth, he told the BBC, “Chinese young
people like me want to make a contribution to this rapid process.
That's why I want to study In the UK - to learn better western
technologies and experience the western culture and do the best I can.”
It goes without saying that the students who are accepted into British
universities are the top students of their home countries’ top
universities. Still, for most, what amplifies the education they
received at home can be summed up in the three words independence,
creativity and self-reliance. These are not only qualities they pick up
at the personal level – although the mere process of adapting to, and
then succeeding in, a culture often significantly unlike their own
gives them a level of self-confidence they might well not even need in
More to the point, a UK graduate education teaches foreign students a
kind of independent thinking, creativity with ideas (most conspicuous
in artistic disciplines but as evident in disciplines such as business
and politics – “thinking outside the box” – and even science. Most
foreign student have come from academic environments that have
emphasized rote learning and, with the best of intentions, the dutiful
regurgitation to their professors of the teachers’ own ideas. Only in
an environment that both fosters and teachers ways of independent
thinking do students learn how to generate their own ideas, propose and
test original solutions to problems, and trust their own creative
British universities also offer well-recognised value for money.
Undergraduate degree programmes, for example, are typically spread over
three rather than four years, and most master’s degree programmes are
designed to be completed in one year. This makes them highly
cost-effective when compared to the longer time it takes to complete
comparable courses of study in other countries, particularly in the US.
Also, scholarships and other forms of financial aid make it possible to
for many foreign students to enter institutions they would not be able
to attend on their own or their families’ resources. Personal support
in gaining access to such assistance, overseen by highly trained
university administration staffs, helps many foreign students navigate
that thicket of qualifications that sometimes discourage them from
pursuing this vital source of financial help.
Furthermore, access to government-funded health care contributes
greatly to the financial advantages of studying in the UK. Students in
any full-time course in Scotland and in full-time courses lasting at
least six months in England, Wales or Northern Ireland are entitled to
free medical treatment from the British National Health Service.
Another advantage of study in the UK is that some students can, if they
must or wish, work while they are pursuing their degrees. Because they
are from outside the EU, students who are registered is a course of
study longer than six months can work as much as 20 hours a week during
term time and full-time during holidays. Students who need to
supplement their finances to live as well as study abroad will be happy
to know that part-time work is easy to find. Others may find working
part-time a valuable way of learning more about the local culture
outside the confines of academe.
The UK also offers a unique variety of graduate academic settings. In
addition to the universities and colleges ensconced within Britain’s
bustling, dynamic cities – which include far more places than London,
though the capital is unrivaled for its academic, cultural, and other
offerings – students can choose to study on purpose-built countryside
campuses, often in areas of singular natural beauty as well. While some
foreign students understandably want the programmes as well as the
prestige of Britain’s famous, time-honored seats of higher education,
others prefer the more modern, state-of-the-art universities that have
sprung up throughout the country, sometimes with specific academic
specialisations, sometimes offering a full range of post-graduate
Indeed, exposure to the larger culture is, though often overlooked
during considerations of where to study abroad, one of the strongest
reasons for choosing the UK as a place to pursue an advanced degree.
Exploring the country beyond the university campus is sure to
strengthen English skills and, more to the point, it does not require
learning yet another language beyond the international language of
English that has become the worldwide academic norm.
In addition to the native, local, and popular cultures, Britain offers
some of the richest examples of Western culture to be found anywhere in
Europe – and not just in London. Although London plays second fiddle to
no other city in Europe in terms of its cultural offerings of all
kinds, there are also significant cultural centres and events in other
UK cities, such as Birmingham, which has one of the world’s greatest
symphony orchestras, and Edinburgh, a city with an extraordinarily rich
year-around cultural life and a summer festival of all the arts that is
one of the world’s most renowned. British museums also are considered
among the world’s finest.
For the more adventuresome, the rest of Europe is literally at the
doorstep of people living in the UK. There are affordable ways to
travel to the other countries of Europe – particularly for students –
with resulting close, easy access to a broad array of other Western
cultures, people, and traditions.
But even students who find study so demanding that it keeps them close
to home and allows them little time for travel will be grateful to be
“confined” to a country as famously beautiful as the UK. The British
countryside, villages, and beaches are famous worldwide for their
surpassing beauty. Travel within the country is inexpensive and fast,
allowing most visiting students ample opportunities to explore the UK’s
riches beyond its university walls.
Whatever your motives for choosing to study in the UK – and whatever
you do to enhance your academic experience while there – you can be
sure of one thing. When you return home, everyone will be impressed
that you earned your degree in a country known throughout the world for
the high quality of its educational offerings. And, with a British
degree in your pocket (and brain), you’ll be in a prime position to
compete for your country’s best jobs – and find the most satisfying way
to take part in a globalised world you have yourself encountered.