For the last few weeks, I have been back in the U.K, enjoying a break with my family. Unfortunately, the Spanish weather has not followed me and my activities are controlled by the unpredictable British weather. After a few more weeks at home, I will be heading for a new adventure in Leuven, Belgium to study a master. Due to the rise in student fees in England, I will not be the only person looking to further education in a foreign country.
The controversial decision to allow universities to charge up to £9000 has meant that many people have had rethink whether higher education is worth the debt. After years of increasing numbers of students applying for university, this year has seen a reverse in the trend, with applicants down in England. Although the government may deny that this drop has been caused by the hike in tuition fees, the huge drop in applicants has not been seen in other parts of the U.K. Whilst there was a 7.7% drop in English applicants, the drop in applicants has been lower than in other parts of the U.K. which have not seen rises in the tuition fees. Welsh applicants, whose tuitions fees will be subsidised by the Welsh government to remain at around £3000, have seen a 2.9% drop, and there has been a 2.1% drop in Scottish applicants, who still enjoy free tuition in higher education. Many of the younger students are looking at alternatives to the massive debt that they will accumulate through a university degree in England. Some school leavers are looking to enter the job market, with many big companies like KPMG and BT trying to tap into the market. However, there has also been an increase in students looking abroad to study. Whilst life in the USA may be easier for English students to adapt to it is very expensive to study over there. Closer to home, universities in Europe offer both a decent price and quality education in under graduate and post graduate courses.
As a member of the European Union, we benefit from the same tuition fees in other member states as domestic students. This year, 31 European universities appeared in the Times Higher Education Top 100 world rankings (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2011-2012/top-400.html ). The U.K was represented by 12 Universities, whereas the other 19 were from other European countries, ranging from Sweden to Germany. Many of these universities offer a quality education at a fraction of the price of universities in the U.K. An undergraduate degree in Maastricht University can cost €1,700. Furthermore, the language barrier is easy to overcome, giving the increase in English language courses. There are over 2,400 courses available in English in non-English speaking countries, and this number is rising. In May, Politecnico di Milano announced that the majority of the courses would switch to English from 2014. Studying for a degree in another European country would allow students to learn a new language without the pressure of achieving academically in another language. Living and studying in another country not only allows you to learn a new language, it allows you to gain an edge on competitors in the job market, having lived in another country and learned about different customs, political systems and styles of doing business. The prices in general are a lot lower than the fees for English students in British universities. This is also the case for master programmes, which also offer English language courses at good prices.
I have been thinking about doing a master for quite a long time, although the financial side of it has always been a worry. For example, a course in International Relations in a Russell Group university can cost in excess of £5000, without taking living costs into consideration. Whilst there are some grants and scholarships available, many people have to self-fund these courses. For those who are not fortunate enough to have parents who can fund their master, the only option is to take out a loan, which adds to their ever growing debts. After looking around the market, a master in a foreign country is cheaper and it could also open up many more doors for people.
In September, I am moving to Brussels to study a master in the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. It seems that my course has a large portion of international students, which will be great to learn more about different cultures. Having done Erasmus and lived in Spain, I have enjoyed meeting people from a range of countries, and it has been great to learn about the diversity of other Europeans. This year I will try to write a bit more about living in Belgium and studying in a foreign country. Also, as I will be studying in a city where the main language is Dutch, I will write about how I survive with the language difficulties.