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UK Universities and Foreign Students

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 9 May 2018 | comments*Discuss
Uk University Student Foreign Overseas

Studying at a UK university can be a valuable educational experience whilst also giving foreign students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a different way of life. UK universities have always welcomed foreign students but there are some factors to take into account before coming to the UK to study.

Student Visas

In most cases foreign nationals coming to the UK to study on a full university degree course must apply under Tier 4 of the points-based immigration system for a general student visa. (Different rules apply for those who intend to take a course lasting six months or less.) To obtain a Tier 4 general student visa foreign nationals must have been accepted on an approved course of study and show that they will be able to support themselves financially while they are in the UK.

Recent changes to the rules on student visas mean that applicants must first obtain a “confirmation of acceptance for studies” from the course provider. In addition, applicants for student visas must provide biometric information (photograph and fingerprints) to the UK immigration authorities. Foreign nationals applying from outside of the UK may also have to apply for a UK identity card.

Foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK to explore the possibility of studying at a UK university may be able to obtain a prospective student visa. This allows them to come to the UK for up to 6 months, as a visitor, to look at universities and decide whether they wish to study here.

Fees Payable by Foreign Students at UK Universities

Students from overseas generally pay higher fees to study at UK universities than students from the UK. Students from the EU may be eligible to pay the same rate as UK students. However, there is likely to be a residence element to the fees criteria meaning that some foreign nationals may be eligible to pay fees at a lower rate.

Different universities charge different levels of fees. In the broadest terms the fees charged by the most highly-regarded universities may be higher than those charged by other universities. The fees charged are also likely to vary considerably depending on the type of course to be studied – for example arts subjects will be cheaper than medicine.

Prospective students should check the website of the university or universities they wish to attend to find out what the fees will be. At the very least the fees are likely to be over £10,000 per year for courses started in 2010. Applicants for student visas will have to show that they can afford both the fees and an amount to support themselves while they are in the UK. There are prescribed levels of the financial means a student must have depending on where in the UK they will be based.

Some universities may offer scholarships or bursaries for students from abroad – individual university websites will provide more information on whether this type of financial support may be available.

Life at UK Universities

UK students have tended to live away from home and often go to universities which are quite far from where their family is based. However, after the number of universities increased in the early 1990s more UK students have been attending “local” universities. Depending on where a foreign student chooses to study it is quite likely that they will not be the only ones finding their feet in a new town.

Going to university in the UK often marks a major transition from childhood to adulthood. The new-found freedom can come as a shock to some students who may have been very dependent on the protection and comforts of the family home. The first year of a university course may, therefore, present a rather steep learning curve – not just educationally but also socially.

Traditionally, UK student life has focused quite heavily on alcohol (the legal drinking age in the UK is 18) and partying. The UK culture of pubs and bars may seem very alien to foreign students from more conservative cultures. However, universities invariably have a large number of clubs (often called “societies”) catering to a very wide range of interests including sport, cultural activities, academic subjects and politics. There may also be clubs for students from different countries, cultures or religions. It should, therefore, be possible for every student to find a club or society which allows them to settle in and meet new friends in a safe and welcoming environment.

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