UK universities take more international students than any other country, apart from the US, with around 500,000 students from abroad studying undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in the UK. The largest number is from the European Union, with Germany sending the most. Students from outside the EU pay international student tuition fees, which are usually double the cost for EU students
By far the largest group of international students are Chinese. Around 90,000 arrive each year, exceeding any other nationality.
Yihang Xue, 23, from a town close to Shanghai in northern China, is studying a MSc in transport planning and engineering at Leeds University. Last year he completed an undergraduate engineering degree at Leeds. “I didn’t consider any other country,” he said. “I wanted high-calibre teaching and high- quality education facilities.
“I really like British culture. Also, I have an aunt and cousin living in London so there is some-one to contact in an emergency.”
Xue is applying for jobs in the UK, but he will eventually return to China. “I am an only child. I would be able to work in engineering or I could teach English,” he said.
The fees for his undergraduate degree were £17,000 a year and he has paid £16,000 for his MSc tuition, with estimated living costs at £9,000 a year – cheaper than in the US, Australia and Singapore, the other major English-speaking countries that compete for students.
UK universities are also in demand because of their academic reputation. Surveys of international students by the UK Higher Education International Unit (IU) have found the most important factors students take into account are: the prestige of the university; the course content and the potential for future earnings.
Bhargav Bharadwa from Mumbai is in the first year of an economics degree at Warwick University, where fees for international students are £21,000.“This is a very good university, better than the universities at home,” said the 19-year-old, who had ambitions to work in the finance industry. “Before I made my decision I looked at university rankings across the world. I also considered studying in Singapore.”
“Students want to come here because it is affordable, they get high quality teaching and it is a safe and tolerant place to study,” concluded Vivienne Stern, director of the UK Higher Education IU. “On campus they meet students from all over the world.”