Study in the UK: The Lowdown

Samuel Clennett

The UK education system is recognised as world leading, with some of the top universities in the world based there. In fact, there are hundreds of different universities and colleges to choose from, offering 50,000 different courses - so no matter whether you want to study medicine, art or business, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the UK.

The UK is also one of the most popular countries in the world for international students, with some 500,000 enrolled at any one time. International students will pay fees to attend a UK college or university course, but because British courses are typically relatively short, the costs can still work out favourably compared with other popular study destinations.

We’ll take a more detailed look at the costs involved with attending a British university, later. We’ll also touch on how you may be able to save money when paying for your overseas experience, using Wise. Send and receive payments from around the world using the mid-market exchange rate for currency conversion - and get yourself a multi-currency borderless accountto make your day to day spending easier in the UK. More on that later.

Studying in the UK

The UK has many universities which are considered to be the top in their field. From famous names such as Oxford and Cambridge universities, to specialist colleges for the arts, technology or medicine, the range of institutions and courses is staggering. There’s also a huge variety in terms of the places you may choose to live in the UK. If you prefer a big city, you might go for London, Manchester or Edinburgh - but you’ll also find plenty of smaller towns with good university options, as well as campus universities which are more self contained and have everything their student body might need in one place.

Your two major expenses as an international student in the UK are likely to be tuition fees and rent - and these can vary widely depending on where you choose to study. Tuition fees for local and EU students in the UK are capped¹, but if you’re an Australian looking to study in Britain you’ll have to pay the full, uncapped, international fee, which could be anything from £10,000 to nearly £25,000 a year for typical undergraduate courses. Lecture based courses are usually the cheapest options, with clinical studies and specialist subjects like medicine and veterinary medicine proving much more expensive².

Rent in the UK can be pricey, too. In London and other major cities, you’ll find the overall cost of living is high. Many students manage this by finding a place in university halls of residence for at least their first year of study. This can work out cheaper than renting a place on the open market, and gives you time to research your accommodation options for the following years.

It’s also worth noting that a standard undergraduate course in the UK is 3 years, with many master’s degree courses running for only a single year. This is shorter than some other overseas study destinations such as the USA, and can mean that overall you save some money by cutting the length of time you need to study.

Study Visa

You’ll need to have a student visa to enter the UK and start your course. There are several different visa types, depending on the length of time you’re planning on staying, the course you’ll take, and your age.

For most students looking to take a higher education course, you’ll need to apply for a Tier 4 General student visa³, which you can do once you’ve been accepted into your chosen university.

You’ll have to collect supporting evidence which demonstrates you can cover your costs while you’re in the UK, and may be required to attend a meeting at a UK embassy or consulate. It’s worth knowing that the amount of money you need to have available to get your visa approved could vary depending on where in the UK you want to live. Because London has a high cost of living relative to the rest of the UK, students attending a university here will be asked to have a larger amount of money available to cover their costs.

Learn more about the different types of UK study permits and student visas available, with this handy guide.

Cost of studying in the UK

The UK is not the cheapest option when it comes to studying overseas, so you’ll need to weigh up the different costs before you decide to head off. That said, taking a course in the UK can work out cheaper than a destination such as the US, making it a solid choice if you want to continue your studies in another English speaking country.

Here’s a look at some of the main costs you’ll need to pay, and the prices of some common purchases, to give a benchmark.

Type of costAmount
Undergraduate tuition fees - international studentsThe fee is set by the institution, and varies by course and year of study. You’ll pay £10,000 - £25,000 a year for most courses, but fees could be up to £38,000 a year if you want to take a clinical course or study medicine in the UK.
Postgraduate tuition fees - international studentsThe fee is set by the institution, and varies by course. £11,000 - £32,000 per year on average.
RentRents vary by region. Research shows that students in Northern Ireland pay the least for rent, at £91/week, while London students pay double that - £182/week.
Books and course materialsEstimated at £30/month or more
Monthly travel pass (London)£143/month
Macdonald’s meal£6
Cinema ticket£12.25

You can find more information about the costs of living in your chosen area of the UK, by visiting cost comparison website Numbeo.

Data is submitted by users around the world, which gives live information about the prices of key items, rent, transport and more. At the time of research, data shows that consumer prices including rent are 16% higher if you’re living in London compared to Sydney, for example⁴. However, if you were to live in UK university town Durham, instead, you’d find prices over 30% cheaper than in Sydney⁵ - proving the importance of thorough research before you choose your course.

Universities in the UK

Britain has 4 universities within the global top 10 rankings, and many more which rate very highly for their subject areas. Here are the top 5 universities in the UK according to world rankings⁶:

  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford
  • University College London (UCL)
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Edinburgh

Many of the UK’s universities have high proportions of international students, providing a welcoming and diverse environment to study in. The universities with the largest number of international students are as follows:

  • UCL
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Coventry University
  • University of Sheffield

Cut the costs of studying abroad with Wise

One of the most daunting things about studying abroad is the cost. The British education system is world class, but it’s also expensive - and you’ll also have to cover the costs of travel, accommodation and daily life. If you are looking for a way to send money to the UK, Wise could be an option.

One way to save when you’re sending money overseas for costs like tuition fees and rent, is to use Wise. Wise offers cheap, simple and safe international payments, which always use the mid-market exchange rate for currency conversion. This can mean you pay up to 16x less for your cross border transfer compared to using your normal bank.

You can also save - and make life easier when you’re overseas - with the multi-currency borderless account from Wise. You’ll be able to hold your money in any of dozens of different currencies, and send, spend and receive payments from anywhere in the world.

The account even comes with a linked debit Mastercard for your day to day spending. You’ll never be charged to spend in a currency you already hold in the account, so simply pay in dollars when you want to, and convert to pounds using the mid-market rate. You’ll pay a low transparent fee for the transaction, and can then spend using your card without any international charges to worry about.

Are you ready to start your new chapter as an international student in the UK? Hopefully this guide has inspired you, and you’ll be able to find the perfect course, and the perfect new home for you.


  1. Studying in the UK
  2. Costs
  3. Student Visa
  4. Comapred Costs of Living - Sydney and London
  5. Comapred Costs of Living - Sydney and Durham
  6. Top Universities

Sources accurate as of 10 Dec 2019

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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