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!
Students’ cost of living in the UK
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.
UK tuition fees and course costs – UK/EU students
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.
UK tuition fees and course costs – international students
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.
UK scholarships and student funding
Home (UK/EU) students are eligible for loans, grants and other forms of funding to cover their UK tuition fees, with differing amounts of funding depending on location. While student loans for home students tend to cover all tuition fees, the additional loan to cover the cost of living in the UK often falls short of the needed amount, with a maximum living loan of UK£5,740 ($8,560) for students outside of London and up to £7,751 (UK£11,550) for those who study in London.
Undergraduate home students at private UK universities (there are only three in the country) can still apply for tuition fee loans for most courses, as well as maintenance loans and maintenance grants. However, the tuition fee loan might not cover the full amount.
A large range of scholarships to study in the UK are also offered by the government, individual universities, independent organizations and various charities. The Education UK website provides a searchable database of 3,000 scholarships for international and home students. It is also worth checking to see what scholarships and support schemes are available from the government and other organizations in your own country.
Prominent UK scholarships for international students include:
- Chevening Scholarships – government funded UK scholarships open to outstanding students with leadership potential from around the world to study at postgraduate level at accredited UK universities.
- Marshall Scholarships – UK scholarships for high-achieving US students to gain funding to study in the UK.
- Commonwealth Scholarships and fellowships – UK scholarships offered by member governments to citizens of other Commonwealth countries.
UK scholarships are more widely available at postgraduate level, with relatively few offered for undergraduate students. However, always check with your chosen university, as support is often available for exceptional undergraduate students.
For a longer list of prominent international scholarships to study in the UK, see this article.
Value for money?
The UK is the world’s second most popular destination for international students (after the US), with the strong reputation of UK universities continuing to give a competitive advantage to those who gain a UK degree. According to the Tracking International Graduate Outcomes survey (from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills), international students in the UK are more likely to earn higher salaries after graduation than if they’d studied at home. So the overall cost to study in the UK may well be counterbalanced by future returns.
This article was originally published in October 2013. It was updated in March 2015.