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Study UK: Courses, expenses and everything in between
Aruni Mukherjee
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July 10, 2008

It's nearing that time of the year again when air fares to and from India suddenly spike up, and I am not talking about fuel prices. I am referring to the rise in demand due to the large number of Indian students who travel to the UK every year, along with those already studying in the UK but visiting their families during summer vacation.
It is a big decision to go abroad to study, particularly when we are so used to our cosy and protected comfort zone at home. We never even think of the mundane tasks such as paying the gas bill, or what brand of detergent to buy. What is more difficult is not knowing what to expect of life in another country, and that is why I want to share a few snippets of life in the UK whilst as a student and in general.

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To do well at university, the trusted Indian mantra of mugging up does not do the trick. Students get maximum credit when there is original research involved, and when they have consulted a wide range of reference material. Project and dissertation based tasks are more common than jot-down-what-you-know type of exams, although the latter do exist.

However, you will be pleased to know that the volume of the syllabus is probably more manageable than it is in India, which will give you the chance to open up and experiment with your assignments. Tutors expect people to engage in presentations and discussions, so be prepared on that front.

Living expenses
In terms of life in general, unless you can pay exorbitant rents to stay on campus, you will probably have to rent privately sharing with a group of friends. Rents can range widely depending on whether you are in London [Images] (around GBP 600 [Rs 51,000 approx, at 1 GBP = Rs 85] month for a room in a house) or in Leicester (GBP475 [Rs 48,400 approx] a month for a two-bedroom flat).

Utility bills depend on how much you turn on the boiler or how many times you have a bath instead of a shower, but it is reasonable to expect them to be GBP 50 to 60 [Rs 4,250 - 5100 approx] a month for a three-bedroom house. The big supermarkets are usually cheaper for groceries than your local butcher and corner shop, so be prepared to ditch your racial kinship with the local corner shopwala bhaiya and go to a Tesco or Asda.

Travelling expenses
Travelling around the country can be very expensive, with train fare between Cambridge and London (for instance) costing nearly GBP 30 [Rs 2,550 approx] . Costs can be cut by a third if you buy a Young Persons' Railcard by paying GBP 20 (it is valid for a year) [Rs 1,700 approx]. If you are in London, the Tube is the best way to get from A to B, and you should buy an Oyster card which has discounts for students instead of paying for tickets everyday. You can top up your Oyster card with credit, which can be done online. The National Express buses are quite good in terms of getting to and from major cities to Heathrow, and tickets can be booked online.
Earn while you learn
With regards to part-time jobs, you can get some shifts at the local supermarket or McDonald's fairly easily. Better-paid assistantships at universities are more difficult to get. Some universities have their own part-time job agencies, and you should also consult them.

You cannot work more than 20 hours a week by law, but you can potentially earn around GBP 500 [Rs 42,500 approx] a month if you get a decent part-time job. You've got to get a National Insurance number before you can work, and but you have to pay tax at 22 per cent and social security contributions at 11 per cent if you earn above a certain threshold each fiscal year (around GBP 6,000 or Rs 510,000 approx).

Culturally speaking
You are expected to be polite and reserved in your day-to-day interaction with people. Please say 'please' as much as you can, don't forget the 'thank you' and hold the door for the person behind you. Good manners go a long way in this country, almost as much as moaning about the weather does.

The food is not bad, despite what most people say. And if you are craving for some desi lifestyle, there is bound to be an Indian restaurant nearby. Many cinema halls screen Bollywood movies, and areas like Southall, Eastham and some parts of Birmingham or Leicester are so quintessentially Asian that you will forget you are in another country. Dosas for GBP 2, anyone?
In terms of crime, I strongly believe if you want to stay out of trouble, you can. Avoid shady areas at night (like in all countries), and boozing around in the early hours can bring you at loggerheads with dodgy folk.

Job market
Finally we come to the big question: what are your job prospects after graduation? Harbour no illusions: getting a job in the UK is very difficult for non-EU citizens. With the introduction of the new points-based system, you will need a certain score depending on your qualifications if your future employer wants to apply for a work permit for you. There are certain areas where there is a shortage of skills in the UK (the Home Office website has details), and getting a job in these sectors is easier.

If you are a post-graduate student, you are entitled to stay and work in the UK for a short while after qualifying. But before taking the big step of coming here, you have to consider the liabilities you and your family have to take on: tuition fees on their own can be well above GBP 10,000 [Rs 850,000 approx] a year.
Of course if you manage to crack the recruitment processes of the big investment banks or accountancy firms, there should be no problem in getting a work permit. These employers advertise their jobs widely and can arrange a work permit for you if you are successful. But with a lengthy online application form, numerical and verbal tests, interviews and assessment centres, the whole process is very challenging and very few get through.
There are many more aspects of student life in the UK that I have not managed to outline here. I am sure everyone will have different experiences and may or may not be able to relate to some of the points I mentioned above. One thing is for sure: this experience will widen your horizons like no other.

The writer is a former student of Warwick University.

Have you studied abroad? Do you have advice for students heading abroad? Helpful tips on how to tackle the visa interview or applications process? Did you encounter unexpected roadblocks when you applied to a foreign university but managed to overcome them? Are there paperwork issues that students should know about but don't? Write in to with your advice and we'll publish your tips right here on

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