Daily News Portal

the hidden price of UK education

I can understand that rising costs are inevitably passed on to us [the students] as customers, but it has led me to question if education is only accessible to the financially privileged.

Are we wrong to aspire for more?

Many students just like me, leave their families and home to travel across the world to access the quality education the UK has to offer. They sacrifice so much to fulfil their ambitions and this sacrifice comes at a price which is not quantifiable.

Yet there has to be a bottom-line. These hopes and dreams have a real price tag and there are hidden costs students face in accessing international education.

Educational consultancy

When students start exploring opportunities to study abroad, they often get in touch with education counsellors or immigration consultants for assistance.

The job of the counsellor is to guide the students with choosing the right study course, university and location of study, and complete the application process including securing a visa, where necessary.

While some approved counsellors work free of charge because their services are subsidised by university commission, in my experience, many consultancies charge a hefty fee for their services, ranging between £2,000 to £4,000 depending on what support is required.

Like other financial ‘services’, families are often suspicious of those that are ‘free’ – suspecting hidden costs later down the line or poor outcomes.

This puts students and families in a vulnerable position at the first hurdle and many end up paying high fees that are completely avoidable.

Proving English proficiency

The UK is a leading study destination primarily because the language of tuition is English.

For many international students, this has been the medium of instruction for their entire schooling and why Western universities are so attractive.

Despite this fact, however, they still have to prove their proficiency.

The trouble is that a limited choice of approved language tests creates high demand and test fees increase as a result.

The IELTS test costs between £215 and £220, with many students having to physically travel to test centres at further expense and students simply have to pay to proceed.

The test also expires after two years and we may be required to do it all again for further visa or job applications.

Some universities now allow the students’ English Language scores as proof and waive off these proficiency exams if they have passed the benchmark set.

Course application fees

While some universities do not charge application fees for selective courses, others do.

The typical postgraduate application ranges from £40 to £75 for every course the student wishes to apply for regardless of the outcome. For instance, the cost of an application for the University of Bristol, a prestigious Russell Group university, is £60.

In my experience, a candidate applies to four to six universities and waits to hear back from the universities on the decision before applying for more.

With limited time and universities taking weeks to return a verdict, students end up making more applications than they need.

Universities offer very little information on the likelihood of acceptance or the ratio of applications to places available. For many students the chances of acceptance are low and they are simply paying for rejections.

Visa fees

The fact that there are tiers of service in securing a visa – standard, priority and super-priority – speaks volumes. The question is ‘do you have the time to wait and risk the investment you’ve already made at this stage?’

A super priority service costs an additional £1,000 to the basic visa fee and secures a decision within 24 hours.

Priority services look like a choice but a university administrative error or a banking delay can put pressure on a student to arrive on time, and in this process time costs money.

Some students have no choice but to pay for priority service to meet university deadlines.

Immigration Health Surcharge

Finally, significant hikes in the IHS charge have been imposed for student visas from February 2024. The annual cost has increased by 65%, from £470 to £776.

“The United Kingdom needs a system that accepts great minds from all socioeconomic backgrounds”

A three-year undergraduate education now costs an extra £2,090 in IHS charges, and while it allows access to NHS services, many students are still reluctant to seek care or never register with a doctor.

More support is needed to help students understand the financial hurdles involved in international education in addition to their academic goals.

Some universities and organisations have a good amount of scholarships that allow students from various backgrounds to be eligible and apply for them. Whilst some universities market it well and students benefit a lot from it, sometimes a lack of awareness stops them from accessing these opportunities.

The UK needs a system that accepts great minds from all socioeconomic backgrounds with access to more scholarships, expedited immigration procedures, and tiered price structures.

There is a reciprocal value to welcoming international students to the UK and I hope that more can be done to support students with the financial barriers they face.

About the author: Yash Nag is a graduate of Loughborough University and former student mentor for Leap Finance. Alongside his full time employment he runs a counselling service, College Grads, and is a commentator for The PIE News as part of our ‘Student Voice’ series. 

Read Nore:the hidden price of UK education