That Britain has some of the world’s finest universities is indisputable, although recent changes in the global rankings methodology has knocked us down a bit, with only Cambridge remaining in the top five, according to the QS World University Rankings, widely considered the most authoritative source of its kind. Still, we’re no slouches when it comes to quality higher education. Why then are growing numbers of British students opting to study at universities elsewhere in the EU instead of staying home? It’s simple: They are driven by skyrocketing tuition fees in the UK, and a widening choice of English-only degree courses at said EU universities.
Others are choosing to study in Britain but are living elsewhere, in some cases making long weekly commutes. And all of it is in the service of saving money, which is in short supply for all too many uni students.
Going Dutch (or German, or Danish…)
The global dominance of the English language is responsible for the fact that many EU universities have opened undergraduate courses taught entirely in English – particularly business, economics and information technology. British students can get a break on costs because EU universities are required to offer all students within the EU the same financial terms as domestic students. At many universities this means that there are no tuition fees, and British students are taking advantage of these new opportunities.
One popular choice is the University of Groningen, the biggest uni in the Netherlands, located in the northern part of the country. Highly ranked, Groningen has received twice as many applications from British students for the 2015-16 year as it did in the previous year year, with about 285 British undergraduates starting courses in early September, compared to only 135 the year before.
Another option in the Netherlands is Maastricht University, one of the first to offer courses taught entirely in English and still a trailblazer in this area. Nearly 400 students from Britain are currently enrolled. Other popular choices are Aarhus in Denmark and the Freie Universität in Berlin.
There are numerous other choices to consider, including really going abroad, e.g., to Canada, which presently offers the best tuition values of all English-speaking nations. Don’t rule out South Africa either, but unless you’re pretty wealthy, you’ll have trouble finding a bargain in the United States (home to some of the highest ranked unis in the world) or even in Australia and New Zealand.
For cash-strapped students looking for quality education in English, the world is opening up. But before you start packing your bags keep a few things in mind.
Limitations and Caveats
Many of the desirable EU universities still have a limited English curriculum and some do not offer bachelor’s programmes in English, though they do have English graduate courses. Accordingly, even though some of the universities are planning to expand their English curricula, being multi-lingual could be an advantage for many students.
Even absent a language barrier in class there could be one in the larger community, as well as a cultural barrier to consider. In Germany for example, university study is taken very seriously overall so any student who views university chiefly as a socialising opportunity may have to make some significant adjustments. If you’re considering going abroad to study, do some studying ahead of time to ensure you are making the best choice not only financially but also personally.
Studying Here and Living There
Some uni students take an even more creative approach to saving money, choosing to study at a British university but live in a place where rents are cheaper. For instance a 23-year-old University of London student, shocked at the high prices of renting a room near his campus and having few other desirable options, is currently living in Poland, commuting 1,000 miles a week. He says he is saving thousands of pounds a year and that the quality of life in the little Polish town where he resides is “amazing.” He travels light, carrying only hand luggage, and though he is obliged to spend two nights a week in London he stays in cheap hostels or on the sofas of friends.
Though his example may seem extreme, hundreds of thousands of other students are in such desperate straits that many are either doing much the same thing or considering it. According to the student housing charity Unipol, rents rose 25% compared to 13% in the wider market between 2010 and 2013. The National Union of Students has cautioned that the university accommodation system has reached a crisis point; it is calling for a cap on the rents that landlords and colleges can charge.
That cap won’t come soon enough for some, so if you are considering living in a different area or even a different country than the one in which your university is located, it may not be a bad idea – if you’re smart about it. Study airline flight schedules or other feasible transport options, and sync them with your class schedules. Work out arrangements with friends and family for accommodation as necessary. If your flights are delayed, don’t forget you will be due compensation from the airline.
There are many other ways, both creative and mundane, that university students can slash costs without leaving home. But if you’ve a bit of a spirit of adventure, consider studying or living abroad for a while. You may be setting yourself up for an unforgettable experience that will stay with you long after you’ve earned your degree.