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Revealed: the real cost of a UK education

International students have revealed how much they were really spending on their UK education, with one saying they see themselves as an investor who "expects returns".
April 5 2024
3 Min Read

How much would the majority of people think one year of a UK education costs? Around £10,000? Maybe £15,000 at a push?

Think again.

At The PIE Live Europe, international students revealed how much they were really spending on their education in the UK during a roundtable.

Jiayu Liu, a master’s student in Philosophy at University College London, told delegates about the expenses that she had to be able to afford – having just calculated them in her head.

“In my undergraduate degree at Durham, I spent £30,000 per year – £7,900 for 44 weeks of accommodation in total, and £20,500 for the tuition fees.

“Now at UCL, the total I believe I’m spending is around £65,000. That’s £29,000 for a one year postgraduate-taught course, and then £19,500 for 52 weeks’ rent.”

That means Liu has spent a total of around £95,000 to study in the UK – but what wasn’t included in her calculations was the expenditure of just being in the UK.

Yash Nag, who recently completed his master’s degree in Information Management and Business Technology, has been in the UK for three years and is now attempting to get a skilled worker visa through his employer.

“I started with an education loan [from the bank], which started as £31,000, and by the time I graduated the balance had already risen to £52,000.

“We have to take loans from banks or private institutions and that’s why we have a very high interest rate,” he said, adding that his interest rate went up 3% in just one year of studying.

He noted that there are other issues international students face when it comes to finances – and some of that money spent doesn’t even ensure they get into the university.

Student application fees, English language tests and an NHS surcharge which has almost doubled in the last year due to new government policy meant Nag saw his bills keep going up.

The English language test for him became almost “useless”, he said.

“It might not be needed at a later stage depending on the UK visa rules. I eventually got an exemption from it, despite having already invested money in it because I’d given it to IELTS just before applying,” he said.

Even things like flights to get to the UK, flights home in semester breaks – and the need to pay up front for accommodation because international students don’t get a guarantor.

“I had to pay 13 months’ contract at my off-campus student accommodation – £7,000 in one go.

“Then you start living here,” he said, estimating that in reality, his total spend in his time in the UK was around £75,000.

While cost of living has soared in the UK, that’s not even the half of it according to these students.

While Assanatou Sy, a postgraduate student at the University of Bath, commended her undergraduate institution, Aberyswyth, for its efforts at affording opportunities to international students to find on-campus jobs, it was still difficult.

“There’s a lot of help with that, but unfortunately what I found is that a lot of students had big difficulties finding jobs outside the campus, or at least finding good contracts [for work],” Sy told delegates.

“I had to pay 13 months’ contract at my off-campus student accommodation – £7,000 in one go”

“You have to [get a job] because the cost of living here is quite high,” noted Similoluwa Adefioye, a student at the University of Sussex.

She also expressed the difficulty of finding part-time work, especially telling employers that she’s international – with some not even considering internationals even in casual positions.

Reflecting on the roundtable, she reiterated how much she and all of her fellow students were putting in to their education.

“Despite not previously knowing any of the other international students at the roundtable, we all shared similar stories and desires.

“In common, we seek value for our substantial investment in our UK education,” she said.

One student even asked delegates to reflect – and ask why they were charging international students so much more. “We’re receiving the same services,” she noted.

“I see myself as an investor… investors expect returns,” Adefioye told delegates.

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