Things you should know about studying in England.

This post is more personal than any others. I got inspired by the amount of messages I received from people living abroad asking very interesting questions – so how is it to study in England?! I’m rushing to answer all your burning questions today!

Why and when did I decide to move to England?

Polish high schools used to take 3 years and during my 2nd year I realised I didn’t get from my school what I expected. Despite it being the best school in the region, the teachers were not supportive mentally and educationally. I was also an eventer at that time and it was difficult for me to find any motivation to study, when the attitude of my teachers was more like “exams or horses Ewelina, you chose”. So this is when I started planning out a different future for myself. Back then I wouldn’t have dreamt about going to university as I thought I was not bright enough and didn’t want to study some meaningless courses which wouldn’t get me a job anyway. Thanks to one of my old friends, who did IB (International Baccalaureate) in England I got in touch with the school she attended. 3 months later I got an acceptance letter, left Polish school and started IB in one of the colleges in Cambridge. My English wasn’t good and I have never been in a plane before, but heeey… I loved the adventure and to this day I still think it was the best life decision I have ever made. After finishing IB I applied to University of Nottingham, from which I graduated a week ago.

Studying at the English universities.

You can find hundreds of universities in England. When you decide to study there chose one, in which you will benefit more than if you stayed in your own country. The best unis are enrolled in so-called Russel Group. They get a lot of funding; their level of education needs to meet tough requirements and the quality of the university experience should reflect high employability of graduates. The list of Russel Group institutions you can find here. When applying, use UCAS website, were you can find many statistics or useful information and compare universities between each other. Remember, that in the UK the application process starts quite early (at the beginning of high school’s final year), so you have to make up your mind before your final exams. After your application gets successfully reviewed you will obtain conditional or unconditional offer and if you comply with the requirements, you are granted a place at uni. For people from outside EU – many of you asked me for the entry requirements for students from India, Iran or some African countries – I am not the best person to ask, I advise you to contact the admissions team (via phone or mail), who will be more than happy to answer all your country-specific questions.

In case of my course experience, I will definitely publish another post dedicated only to that matter. When you ask me what you should study, I am afraid I cannot answer that question because I cannot allow myself to be responsible for your life choices. You need to really do a lot of research to see what course you would be able to stick to for the next 3 or 4 years, so please please please do not let anyone to make that decision for you. It is you life and yours only. To clear out the confusion about the courses, have a look at the entry requirements, the choice of modules you get every year and the length of the course – all available on the course page of every university. Try to google what does a life of a particular field graduate looks like – potential jobs/salaries/length of education. You can also jump to the government page to find out possible career paths in the UK.

The process of studying

Studying in England is expensive. If you are from EU, you can (at least for now) apply for a student loan for undergraduates to cover your fees. If you get it in your first year, you only need to sign the new contracts in the following years without applying again. You start repaying the loan after you graduate if your salary is exceeding the national average yearly salary. If you don’t reach that amount for 30 years after graduation – you don’t need to repay it at all. This may seem like a convoluted system, nevertheless it is a sort of promise from the universities that after graduation you are going to get a good job with a decent salary. High uni fees and relatively expensive living costs make the decision to study in England way more serious than in other countries. Here not everyone goes to uni (like it is the case in some countries with free higher education). Good quality courses at well-known universities are taking time, a lot of work and they are difficult indeed. You need to show a lot of independent work and be ready to do many essays and courseworks on alongside studying your normal material. In my opinion this is a very attractive feature of studying in England. People who decide to study should be 100% dedicated and passionate about the subject, so the level of the whole course is relatively high, preparing you for amazing job opportunities in future…

…Talking about the future

If you study because you have got this very clear idea of what you want to do next – English unis would be perfect for you. During your course you will be shown many options and opportunities which would help you to achieve your career goals. Universities very often have their own employment offices, where they can check your CV, practise interviews, advertise graduate schemes and summer internships. In addition, in most big UK cities, you will be able to work part-time alongside your studies because the managers of the shops, bars and restaurants are quite flexible with working hours. In case of employability services, I can definitely recommend UoN as the university which cares not only about your studies but also about your employment in future.

Atmosphere

Probably it all depends on the university itself, but the contact between the student and lecturer is generally very good. They reply to emails and answer questions with a lot of enthusiasm. You can see they love what they do (at least the scientists I have met). You almost feel like a client, probably because you spend fortune on your course every year. At least when you are not happy with the quality of lecturing or the examination, you can always complain. Your comment will be taken seriously and considered thoughtfully. Unis also have the welfare officers, who make sure you get enough support when dealing with difficult situations, stress, sickness or disability. They all really care how you feel and what your experiences are. Moreover, every single uni will have many societies and sport clubs, trips and whole lot of other events organised so you can get to know new people all the time.

Accommodation

During your first year you are probably going to live in halls with shared bathroom and kitchen. In second year, you move to the shared houses with a bunch of friends you met in your first year. In third year you realise that some people are not suitable to live with so you rent a smaller house with only close friends, so you can focus on studying more than partying 😉 When you look for the accommodation, remember that the best houses get booked in December/January and you should balance the closeness of your flat or house to the campus as well as city centre, where you probably are going to work part-time.

To summarise, I placed a few of “I wish I knew before I moved to UK” points:

Seriously do not hesitate to ask anyone about anything, Britons are absolutely the nicest people in Europe and they are always happy to help you out. Emailing and phoning also works the same way. Through asking I found out so many life-saving tips, I would have to write a separate blog post to fit them all.

British houses are quite cold during winter. Before renting a new place check if there is no dump behind furniture or at the celling. Believe me, it’s extremely difficult to remove mould effectively and you don’t want to breathe it in for a year. In general tenants have some rights (law-wise), nevertheless most of the landlords would rather offer you to move out before the contract finishes than deal with your complaints. It’s because that have more people who want to rent than the rooms available in town.

Place to find free furniture and appliances: freecycle.org

Bank which I can recommend for a student account: Barclays

Mobile network with a lot of data and bargain prices: 3Three

And if you don’t have any obligatory internships during your university course, I would advise you to find some yourself over the summer. It looks great on your CV and gives you many future opportunities (which you will definitely need by the time you reach your 3rd year).

If you liked this post and you have more questions which I haven’t answered – please pop them in the comment section below or ask via email: motivelina@gmail.com

What is the UCU strike about? – A student’s viewpoint

This post is aimed at everyone, who is as confused about this situation as I was few days ago.

While I am writing this post, there is still 50 hours left for Universities UK (UUK is an advocacy organisation for UK universities) to change their minds and continue the negotiations with UCU (University and College Union – a British trade union) about the academic’s future pensions schemes (more precisely USS -Universities Superannuation Scheme, one of the largest private pension schemes for universities).

I was informed by the university staff about the plans of starting strike action a week ago. The lecturers simply said their pension is going to be significantly decreased and they are not happy with it. Some briefly mentioned about this fact during their lectures, one of them even put a poster up during the coffee break. Unfortunately, the information showed to us was very vague, the poster hardly readable from a projection and I still knew almost nothing. Shortly after, I realised that the action will take 14 days in total over a period of  four weeks. Two days in 1st week, three days in 2nd, four days in 3rd and a whole 5th week. Lecturers are requested to not reschedule any sessions, check work emails or do any academic work related to teaching.

Take a look at the amount of stress this country is putting on foreign students throughout the last couple of years. Firstly, we had the whole unpredictibility of Brexit which has been followed by the requirement of additional insurance for EU students, together with the rumours about not being able to come back to The UK from summer holidays without it… followed by the increase of already high university fees, followed by the complete chaos regarding the terms of application and funding for postgraduate studies of EU students. And now – we are facing a whole month of no lectures or any kind of academic support.

No lectures most days. No meetings with the supervisors regarding my 3rd year project until a week before the deadline (which I hope is a joke). This is what I paid my £9k this year for.

It’s utterly shocking that when I do not come to compulsory lectures or seminars, the university has a right of kicking me out of the course. Why? Because without attending lectures we do not use the full potential of what the university course and we are (supposedly) not able to learn the material ourselves. Nevertheless, in case of a strike – a month of no lectures is not a problem, we can prepare for upcoming exams ourselves. Apparently ‘our education won’t suffer’ they said. Strange.

Despite paying for my course I am forced to attend all the lectures. The same rule is not applied to the academics who can cancel their lectures whenever they want.

So what’s the deal?

After doing some research, I found out that the USS has an unsustainably high financial deficit already (£7.5bn). If nothing is done – the estimated deficit will grow to £17.5bln. That’s why UUK proposed changes, which have been opposed by the trade union.

Basically, UUK wants to swap a current so-called post-employment defined benefit plan with a defined contribution plan. The existing one requires employer to promise a specified amount of money on academic’s retirement based on their earnings, age, academic performance and other factors. The newly proposed plan works in a way that both employer and employee contribute towards a pension fund, so the employees get whatever amount they collected over the years of work + the returns on pension scheme investments. (1, page 207)

Academics calculated that the new option is likely to leave them with less money – so they did not agree on the new plan. UUK refused to negotiate and in return the union voted in favour of a national strike.

The real reason for starting a strike action is cleverly hidden on UCU website (2). The pages are full of FAQs with no valuable information, cute videos and colourful posters. It took me ages find out some useful facts, which to be fair do not sound as bad as the media and academics are showing it to us. I had to go through a long pdf version of RS 102 The Financial Reporting Standard to find out what is really going on with those dramatic pension cuts.

Time for a bit of reflection. I pay a ridiculous amount of money to be able to study in The UK. It was my conscious decision to study here, I knew if I applied for a good scientific course, the possibilities and opportunities opening in front of me in future will outweigh the initial costs of my studies. I took a risk of investing into my degree (always something may go wrong and I will end up jobless with -£27k + interest on my account) hoping that one day it will pay off. I know already that if I want to have some money left for my pension, I need to work twice as hard – firstly, to repay by student debts, secondly to save or invest.

I believe, that academic members of university staff are very wise people and their decision to work at the university was also their own, conscious choice. They understood from the beginning of their career that going into academia will delay their start of salary-based jobs. They were completely aware of the fact, that on average they are going to work for fewer years that their peers pursuing other carrier paths. I also assume, they know that the population is getting older in The UK, thus there is less people to work for the older generations which results in deficits in pension schemes. It’s worth highlighting, that they do not strike because someone takes their own money away (this would be a fraud, legally charged). They strike because someone is telling them: there used to be some additional money to be given to you as a benefit, but this money is now gone and we cannot give it to you, so we suggest a new way of saving for your pension.

A fair and completely legal way, which is the best possible option so far.

What was trade union’s answer?

They put their suggestion forward that the university should contribute a bit more to their pension, so the decrease in their benefit is not as significant.

UUK did not agree on UCU’s proposal.

Yes, this is it.

In my own opinion, this strike causes the most damage to us – students. Nothing was discussed with us. We would like to be involved in such decision-making process, since we pay for every working day of university at least £60 (calculation based on: 1year = 3 terms, each about 10 weeks long, thus ~£900 lost over 3 weeks of strike). Even if some academics are not technically the members of the union, they still support their colleagues, so practically whole uni is going to malfunction for a month. We probably won’t find out until last moment if our lectures happen or not, which will cause a massive confusion over the period of 4 weeks. If the lecturers have an issue regarding not the teaching but their own pensions they should resolve it on legal terms with their employers – so thousands of students, who paid thousands of pounds for this semester are not going to be affected.

Let me know, what is your view on the strike?

Ewelina

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