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Are degrees worth it? Part 2 - cost breakdown

By Danny Harrington


Much of the recent debate around going to university has been stimulated by its increasing cost and this is as true for the international student as the home student. Now when we say increasing cost we very much mean the increasing cost to students (and their families). In the last article we saw the cost to international students estimated at GBP25,000-50,000 per year.

Higher education in England and Wales has been transformed in the last two decades. This has been a complex process as government and universities have sought to grow the percentage of the population in higher education (a pre-requisite for a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, cynics would say to get the unemployment statistics down) but also to grow the research output of universities. This has also meant changing management structures, pay scales, infrastructure investment and more.

When we look at universities as teaching institutions for young adults we often forget how important research is – both in its own right and as a part of the funding models for universities. The top 20 universities in England & Wales (the Russell Group) secure about two thirds of the funding from the UK research councils and significant percentage of funding from other sources. As government has withdrawn direct funding for undergraduates this has left all universities needing to make up the short fall through student fees and those with lower income from research grants have more of a struggle. With fees to home students capped, institutions may look to international students as a major source of income and so we see some with very high percentages of international students (Imperial College London has a whopping 41%* and many have more than 25% of student body from overseas). Of course there are other factors that impact on price such as the reputation an institution has, so universities at the lower end of the scale by reputation/history for both research and teaching find an even greater struggle to attract funding by any means.

This can have a benefit for overseas students. In 2016, a number of universities will have tuition fees for overseas students set even below the maximum fee for home students. The cheapest courses are set at GBP8500 per year. This is very much according to course type. All courses begin to get expensive once they involve laboratories and/or clinical involvement. At the top end of the range, overseas students will be facing tuition fees of GBP30,000-40,000. But for classroom-based courses most overseas students can expect fees around the GBP12,000 mark. When we add in the cost of living (again the figures are wide ranging, everyone lives according to their means) we can expect a further GBP10,000-30,000 per year. The most expensive element in modern England is rent but again this varies wildly from big city to small town, from private to student owned, from north to south etc. if overseas students also want to visit home then a couple of flights need to go on top as well.

So to be realistic the lower level of cost for overseas students is about GBP25,000. One of the unforeseen benefits of Brexit here is that the value of sterling has dropped 10% or so and this cost is therefore 10% cheaper to people funding from overseas sources. With universities also uncertain of funding and student applications from EU countries, there may well be more of an effort to attract students from non-EU countries which could have added benefits. Only time will tell.


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