Student Guide to the United Kingdom (UK)
The United Kingdom is one of the most desired destinations for postgraduate studies for international students. Nearly 485000 international students studying in the UK in 2018 with that number set to grow. The flexibility provided by universities for students of all educational backgrounds and financial budgets is a huge positive especially the 1-year courses that many colleges offer.
The United Kingdom is also known as one of the global leaders in terms of quality of research, thereby providing prospective students the best opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge in any field of study they choose. The variety of options available for students means that there are some parameters to consider such as “Minimum Requirements”, “Tuition Fees”, “Time to Apply”, “Intake Numbers”, “Cost of Living”, “Part-time work opportunities”, and “Permanent residency options”. All of these would differ from one university to another and would depend on multiple factors such as location, college, finances, education qualifications, work experience, etc.
These requirements would range from having an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, language proficiency, professional experience, and some courses may require the student to take an entrance exam. Students should note that there will likely be a university that is suitable for all types of applicants.
Depending on the prestige of the institution and course being applied for, a university may require minimum grades to be eligible with the average range being 60% to 75% grades in their undergraduate degree. That wouldn’t necessarily make a student with lower grades automatically ineligible if applicants can showcase work experience to strengthen their application.
Many universities would require international students, to show their proficiency in the English language by taking standardized tests such as IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge Assessment English’s test (C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency), or Pearson Test of English. Depending on the country of origin, students should research the different types of English exams available to them and ensure that the university they plan to apply to will accept those scores as proof of proficiency in English.
Finally, in certain areas of study, including some MBAs, an entrance exam might be needed and students should be sure to check with the university early to give them time to prepare and have the best chance of passing the exam.
The United Kingdom offers a large range of options concerning the college fees for postgraduate degrees. On average, students can expect to pay between 15000 GBP – 35000 GBP per year, depending on the university and the field of study.
As one of the few countries that provide a 1-year postgraduate degree, the tuition fees must be factored in accordingly. A student applying for a Master of Science degree in Law and Finance to the highly esteemed University of Oxford may expect to pay about 24500 GBP on average for one year. However, the University of Oxford is regularly ranked as number 1 or thereabouts and so if a student were to apply for a postgraduate degree at a university close to 100 in ranking, the tuition fee could drop to about 15000 GBP.
The United Kingdom recognizes that postgraduate studies can be expensive and inhibitive to many international students. Therefore, the government offers a whole array of scholarships & grants which could sponsor up to 100% of college tuition fees as well as living expenses. Students are strongly recommended to research the scholarship options available to them to take advantage of these benefits.
Time to Apply
How long before a course starts, should a prospective student apply? The simple answer is for students to start the process 12 months before the start of the course.
Depending on the university, there may be application windows and deadlines, however, it is recommended for students to apply as early as possible to have the best chance of getting a seat.
Even if a student is still completing their undergraduate degree, their current university should have an option of providing the UK college with a predicted grade certificate that can be used to apply for a postgraduate degree.
Some universities and courses may start in January or September while others are open to applications year-round.
The UK usually has January and September as the main admission windows while some courses and universities also have a window in May of every year. It is salient for prospective students to take the time to research in advance and read the specific deadlines of the universities they plan to apply to.
International students from non-EU countries make up nearly 45% of full-time postgraduate courses in the UK. While the total number of applicants grows year on year, reflecting an increase in demand in the education sector, students should note that competition is stiff. Therefore, having a clear understanding of the university, field of study, and especially application windows and deadlines will help improve their chances of admission.
Cost of Living
A prospective international student looking to apply for a postgraduate degree in the UK has 3 different “costs” – (a) Pre-arrival cost (b) Tuition Fees (covered above), and (c) Cost of Living. In this section, let’s take a quick look at pre-arrival costs and the cost of living.
Pre-arrival costs include expenses on registration fees of tests required, health insurance fees, application fees, visa fees, etc. Health insurance may cost about 300 GBP per annum while a student visa may cost around 350 GBP. In addition, depending on whether a student is taking a GMAT, GRE, IELTS, UCAS, or TOEFL, the fees may vary from 20 GBP to 1000 GBP.
A student in the UK can expect to spend between 500 to 700 GBP per month on accommodation. On average, we would suggest budgeting for about 9000 GBP per annum which would include accommodation, transportation, food, household items, course materials, and utilities.
Part-time Work Opportunities
Many international students may find the cost of living in the UK prohibitive and would look to supplement their finances by taking up part-time jobs. However, students must check the rules before taking up any work, as failure to comply could lead to a risk of deportation.
Only students with visas for full-time courses (Tier-4 Visas) are eligible to work part-time during the course of their studies. A maximum of 20 hours of part-time work per week, is allowed, which can be on-campus or off-campus. Although, universities recommend that students work up to 15 hours per week to ensure study-life balance. Additionally, during holiday breaks, students with Tier-4 visas are allowed to work full-time.
Students who have visas for part-time courses are not allowed to work during their studies. Further, self-employment, freelance, or consultancy work is not permitted.
Permanent Residency Options
New rules set by the government of the UK in 2019, provide international students with a 2-year post-student work visa (PSW). This allows international students to find a full-time job in the UK for two years, after course completion, before having to apply for a Tier-2 visa for permanent employment.
For a student to get a permanent residency in the UK, he/she would be eligible after completing 5 full years of a graduate job. To become a permanent resident, the applicant would need to get the “Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) Visa”. The factors accounted for in attaining an ILR visa are a full-time job, a good code of conduct, and no criminal record.
Further, applicants would need to pass the “Knowledge of Life in the UK” test and a recognized English Language Test to be eligible to be a permanent resident in the UK. Do note that the ILR Visa application process may take up to 6 months and should be factored in when applying.