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Do Scottish universities hold particular appeal for non-Scottish students?

ByKatie Stones

Sep 28, 2016

Of the University of Edinburgh’s 37,000+ students, only around a third originate from Scotland, with 41 per cent coming to study from outside the UK. Recently, the university announced controversial plans to ensure half of all places go to international students in the coming years. Critics suggest this is motivated by an increasing reliance on foreign students, who typically pay much higher fees than UK students. This move looks likely to attract some of the best minds from around the world. The question is: why do so many English and international students choose to study at Scottish universities?

Scottish institutions champion their ‘four-year experience’, which offers valuable opportunities to venture off-piste and discover enthusiasm for new subjects. A broader education that allows undergraduates the flexibility to alter and adapt their degree is favourable with students who seek a varied and holistic approach to learning. It could also be argued that Scottish students experience fewer financial consequences of attending university compared to English students. However, some individuals may feel pressured into attending a university in Scotland because it’s free – rather than because it’s right for them.

Structured similarly to Scottish degrees is the American system, though students don’t have the freedom to pick their own subjects for the first two years. Undergraduates take prerequisite courses in subjects such as sciences, literature, history and the arts to establish a foundation before they begin studying for their major in years three and four. Unlike in the UK, where 76 per cent of universities charge the capped amount of £9,000 per year, American universities have no upper limit on tuition. Students wanting to attend renowned institutions like Columbia may face fees of £50,000 per year; critics argue this puts a premium on education that discriminates against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

England, on the other hand, has a more rigid structure – students who pick an English degree are typically locked into that programme for the duration of the course. Although this perhaps offers a more in-depth and focused approach to learning, it can be considered narrow, and the average percentage of international students in English universities is much lower than in Scotland at 19 per cent (UKCISA). The shorter three-year structure means the pressure kicks in sooner, but has the advantage of fewer loans and therefore less debt.

Throughout Europe, from Sweden to Bulgaria, universities offer multi-disciplinary degree programmes, whilst England maintains it’s largely single-subject teaching programme. Of the Telegraph’s top twenty universities in the world, Scotland features proportionally more than England. Just four of England’s 130 universities feature, while one of Scotland’s very few universities (our very own University of Edinburgh) is at number nineteen. American institutions dominate the rest of the list, of course. It becomes apparent, then, that perhaps England should take a leaf from north of the border and across the pond.

It’s therefore surprising to find that English universities have a lower dropout rate than both Scottish and American institutions, at 7.2 per cent compared to 8 per cent and 7.4 per cent respectively (HESA). As a student who dropped out of Surrey last year and took up a place at Edinburgh this year, I am confident I made the right decision. I, like many other students, wasn’t entirely confident of the degree I wanted to study or the career I wanted to pursue afterwards, which made a flexible Scottish degree the best choice for me.

Overall, whatever your ambitions or character, it is possible to receive an excellent education from
just about any university system. There are so many tools available before, during and after university nowadays to help students make the most informed decisions possible. Meanwhile, If you’re curious about other institutions, it’s always a possibility to apply for a place on the Erasmus exchange programme – and discover a new university to fall in love with.

Image: Columbia University, Public Domain Pictures

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