Can over half a million of the world’s brightest students be wrong? That’s one estimate of the number of international students who forsake the comforts of home and brave the UK’s food and, for many, forbidding weather to get the university 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 over 600,000, 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.
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. Here are the top 10 reasons why you should consider studying in the UK:
One of the main reasons can be summed up in a single word the 23-year-old Uzbekistanian Tulkin Sultanov gave the BBC as his reason for pursuing advanced studies in the UK: “Reputation.” Worldwide, British universities are renowned for their high academic standards, cutting-edge educational facilities (particularly in the sciences, engineering, and the arts), and a broad range of offerings combined with the flexibility to accommodate individual student needs.
Like many other students who eventually study in the UK, 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.
2. High Standards
UK universities and colleges are continuously evaluated by professional bodies to ensure that their teaching and research standards and their facilities are of the highest standards. This has resulted in top worldwide rankings and generalized assumptions that any British graduate education is top rank. Because standards are now known to be high at all levels, an unrivaled prestige is attached to a master’s or doctoral degree earned at a British university.
3. Better Technologies
Of the half-million Chinese students studying abroad annually, some 50,000 have chosen the UK as their academic destination of choice, together spending an estimated £550m/year on their UK education. 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.”
4. Independent Thinking and Creativity
UK universities usually foster independent thinking and creativity with ideas (most conspicuous in artistic disciplines, but just as evident in disciplines such as business and politics – “thinking outside the box” – and even science). Most international students come from academic environments that have emphasized rote learning and, with the best of intentions, the dutiful regurgitation of the teachers’ own ideas. Only in an environment that both fosters and teaches 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 impulses.
5. Value for Money
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 when studying in the US. Also, scholarships and other forms of financial aid make it possible for many international students to attend institutions they would not be able to finance on their own or with their family resources. British universities usually provide support in gaining access to such assistance by helping international students navigate the requirements and application process for financial help.
6. Access to Health Care
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.
7. Work and Study
Another advantage of studying in the UK is that some students can work, if they must or wish, while they are pursuing their degrees. Because they are from outside the UK, students who are registered in 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 their careers and local culture outside the confines of academia.
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 and cultural offerings – students can choose to study on countryside campuses. These are often located in areas of singular natural beauty. While some international 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. Some of these universities offer specific academic specialisations, while others offer a full range of post-graduate programmes.
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, there are also significant cultural centres and events in other UK cities. Birmingham, for example, has one of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, and Edinburgh is a gorgeous city with an extraordinarily rich 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 other countries in 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 their studies 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 the world’s best jobs – and find the most satisfying way to take part in the globalised world you live in today.
Would you like to study in the UK and apply to UK universities? See How to Study in the UK: Everything You Need to Know to Apply to UK Universities
About the Author: Hugh O’Connell is a business owner and university lecturer. He is a director of Plan-it Consultants Limited, Thailand, and UniRoute Limited, Hong Kong. Plan-it provides offline resources to students wishing to study overseas: www.planit.co.th.