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4 myths about UK students studying abroad

As of spring 2021, there were very few students currently living their "study abroad"dream. During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, universities across the world took steps to move their academic programmes online wherever possible. As a result, the vast majority of would-be international students either never left home, or returned to the UK to finish the academic year remotely.

And Brexit put a further spanner in the works for Brits hoping to study in the EU, with the announcement that the UK will no longer participate in the Erasmus programme - the EU student exchange programme created in 1987, and now operating across 34 countries and sending over 300,000 students per year on an unforgettable study abroad experience.

The double impact of Covid-19 and Brexit might lead you to assume that Brits studying abroad is practically an impossibility. But that's not necessarily the case and with travel expected to open up again in late 2021 and into 2022, we've busted the four biggest study abroad myths for UK students.

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Myth no.1 - "Studying abroad is too expensive”

Studying abroad can be surprisingly affordable compared with the UK - let's not forget that UK universities now charge up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees. So while some universities outside the UK are more expensive, for example in the USA and Australia, others in different locations such as the EU charge little or (in some cases) absolutely nothing for tuition fees. And yes, even after Brexit.

For example, studying in Norway and Iceland is almost completely free at most institutions, except for a few specific programmes, and while EU students are entitled to free education in most of Germany, it only costs around £2,500 per year for non-EU citizens. Studying in Spain is equally affordable. And if you happen to speak Czech, education is free as long as you study in the local language (although English-taught courses are also fairly inexpensive).

But it's not only a question of fees. You'll also need to consider living and travel costs, as well as how your "study abroad"status might affect your income. You may not be able to work while living abroad, and your student funding streams might be fewer.

Of course, living costs vary drastically from country to country, and from area to area. For example, while Norway offers favourable tuition fees, it's one of the most expensive European countries to live in. Think about the host country as a whole, and also the specific location of your chosen university. Take time to research the rental market, as accommodation is likely to be your biggest cost. Just as studying in Hull is cheaper than in London, renting in a small Tuscan town is likely to be less expensive than searching for accommodation in Milan.

If you play it well, you might even end up saving money in comparison with your student life in the UK.

Myth no.2 - "I won't be eligible for funding”

The Erasmus dream is coming to an end for UK students, but the UK government recently announced the creation of The Turing Scheme to replace it, providing placements across the globe for UK students in non-EU as well as EU countries. The programme offers different payments depending on where you're travelling to, and for how long. However, the programme will not cover tuition fees for UK students under The Turing Scheme, as it expects them to be waived by participating universities.

It's worth investigating all options available with your university directly, as many will have established partnerships with international universities, as well as bursaries and grants donated by alumni, employers or external organisations. If you're yet to choose where to study, the availability of funded study abroad programmes may well be a key factor in deciding where to apply.

Myth no.3 - "I'll need to learn the language”

If you're not a natural linguist, you might be concerned about how you'll navigate living and studying in a country where English is not the main language. In that case, you could restrict your search to English-speaking countries such as Australia, USA, Ireland or Canada. But bear in mind that English-taught programmes are widely available at universities across the globe, and also that most universities seeking to attract international students have resources in place for those who don't speak the local language. This typically includes practical support with looking for accommodation, advice with visas or healthcare, and social activities for visiting students.

If you choose to study in a country where English is not widely spoken, there are also many benefits. Developing your foreign language skills is always useful, and many universities offer free language courses alongside their academic programmes. Learning a new language could be an extra string to your bow that may impress prospective employers once you graduate.

Myth no.4 - "My degree won't be recognised in the UK”

Not necessarily. In the first instance, it depends on whether you take your full degree abroad, or just part of it. In the case of a year abroad, Erasmus-style or similar, then you needn't worry. Your international studies won't affect overall recognition of your degree back home.

If you decide to take the whole of your studies abroad, then you'll need to make sure that they will be recognised in the UK, if that's where you want to end up working. Some industries are regulated, such as nursing and law, so your international qualifications will need to be validated in the UK so that you can work. Some industry bodies publish a list of internationally-approved courses, so you could look into that for your area of study. For example, if you want to study architecture abroad, you could seek to attend a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) validated course.

In general, even after Brexit, the UK will recognise qualifications from the EU which are of an equivalent standard to those in the UK. However, studying outside of the EU may come with extra complications. You may need to take a conversion course, or in the worst case, repeat your entire studies back home.

Finally, not all university programmes are created equal, and that applies to both UK and international studies. Check the credibility of the university you've chosen, and how your qualification will be received back home. Many international institutions come with a fantastic reputation, and so attending your studies abroad may well prove an advantage over your peers when it comes to job searching.

Ready to pack your bags? How to make your pennies go further

After over a year of travel restrictions, many UK students will undoubtedly have an appetite for studying abroad. It's a great way to visit new places, broaden your horizons, and perhaps even enhance your employability after graduation. It's not for everyone, but a little research should help you decide if it makes sense for you.

And when planning your budget, don't forget to factor in extra costs such as flights, travel insurance and healthcare costs. And consider how you'll transfer your pounds into local currency, to pay your expenses while abroad. Banks are 8x more expensive than using an FX provider such as CurrencyFair, so exchanging with CurrencyFair allows you to protect yourself against unnecessary costs and bank fees. Make your money stretch as far as possible - a few more euro might buy you an extra slice of pizza or sachertorte!

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Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

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