UK tuition fees are frequently under the media spotlight, following price hikes for home students (UK/EU) in recent years and an increase in premium charges for international students. But the overall cost to study in the UK is dependent on many factors, including institution, course, location and funding opportunities, and could in fact be a lot less than the headlines suggest.
According to recent figures, the average cost per year to study in the UK at undergraduate level as an international student is UK£11,987 (~US$17,860), while for international postgraduate students this average fee rises to £12,390. At all levels, laboratory and clinical degree programs are markedly more expensive, with a clinical degree costing overseas students an average of £24,206 ($36,070) at undergraduate level, with top universities in London charging as much as £34,800 ($51,850).
Combine these fees with the average cost of living in the UK, around £12,000 ($17,850), and the total average costs to study in the UK come up to £24,000 ($35,710) per year. Studying in the capital city, meanwhile, is likely to be significantly more expensive.
While these costs may be daunting, remember that most UK universities offer shorter programs compared to countries such as the US (three years for the average undergraduate degree instead of four, and one year for a master’s degree instead of two), so you may be able to subtract a year's worth of fees and living costs from your total budget!
According to recent figures from the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), the average annual cost of living in England (outside of London) for students is UK£12,056 (US$19,490). This includes £4,989 ($7,460) for rent, £1,954 ($2,920) for food, £363 ($540) for household goods, £42 ($62) for insurance, £1,917 ($2,860) for personal items, £1,705 ($2,550) for travel and £1,190 ($1,780) for leisure.
If you wish to study in London, you should expect to pay £13,521 ($20,200) for the same breakdown of goods and services. The biggest difference in the cost of living in London compared to the rest of England is in rent, which is estimated at an average of £6,340 ($9,480) per year.
As the NUS points out, the figures for the rest of England can only be used as a rough guide to the overall cost of living in the UK. But they are roughly consistent with the amounts specified by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), which asks international students to provide evidence that they can afford to live and study in the UK for a specified period before being granted a Tier 4 (General) student visa.
For visa purposes, international students undertaking study in London proper will have to budget £1,020 ($1,520) for each month of stay in the country, while those who study in outer London or the rest of the UK will have to show £820 ($1,225) per month in order to prove they can cover the cost of living in the UK.
There are two levels of tuition fees at publicly funded UK universities: home student fees (including EU students) and international student fees. For home students, institutions in England and Wales can charge up to a maximum of UK£9,000 (US$13,430) per year for undergraduate degree programs; in Northern Ireland up to £3,575 ($5,330) per year; and in Scotland an undergraduate degree is effectively free for students from Scotland and the EU. This is thanks to a subsidy from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). The SAAS also offers a tuition fee loan of up to £3,400 ($5,080) for home postgraduate students.
It should be noted that the Scottish definition of “home” student differs slightly, in that it doesn’t include students from the rest of the UK – i.e. England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Students from the rest of the UK who want to undertake an undergraduate degree in Scotland will need to pay between £6,630 ($9,890) and £9,000 ($13,440).
There’s also good news for students from Wales, who only need to pay £3,810 ($5,680) per year in UK tuition fees to study anywhere in the UK, with the rest covered by the Welsh government.
The amounts given above indicate the maximum amount public universities are allowed to charge. More than half of universities in England and Wales do charge the maximum of £9,000 ($13,440) per year – but at a diminishing number of universities, the annual tuition fees are just £6,000 ($8,950) for undergraduate home students.
Postgraduate tuition fees vary significantly, depending on the university and the subject. Home students may be able to receive some funding from one of the UK’s research councils, the university itself, or via a career sponsorship scheme.
For international students, undergraduate fees for 2014-15 start at around UK£8,000 (US$11,920) for lecture-based courses, going up to £36,600 ($58,201) for an undergraduate medical degree at the top of the price range. On average, however, international undergraduate fees level out at around £11,987 ($17,870) – approximately £4,000 more than home students.
At postgraduate level, the average international fee for classroom based programs in 2014-15 is £12,390 ($18,470), although the majority of courses range from between £10,000 and £13,000 ($14,900-$19,380). For laboratory-based programs, average annual fees stand at £14,274 ($21,285), while for clinical degree programs the average figure is £21,296 ($31,750). For leading clinical programs (such as medicine) at leading UK universities, however, fees can be as high as £38,532 ($57,440) annually.