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Third Level Education in the UK and Ireland

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Joined: 17 December 2010

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Posted: 17 December 2010 at 6:38am | IP Logged

Rethinking Third Level Education in the UK and Ireland: High Cost, Little Value

UK and Irish third level education systems attract many international students every year. Despite high fees for international students, many still chose to study in the UK or Ireland. It is the quality of education provided and job prospects after acquiring degree that seem to be the magnet for international students who annually bring millions of pounds/euro to UK and Irish Universities.

While it is true to note that generally UK and Irish Universities provide quality education, the issue of whether these institutions offer genuinely good value for money remains a daunting question.

Many international students decide to endure high fees in order to receive third level education which will theoretically allow them to earn decent wages in the aftermath of completing their education in the UK or Ireland.

Receiving third level education in their country is much less costly, but perspective students notice that their colleagues who have graduated at home are  ofetn low wage earners and as a result they seek to acquire the same skills as their peers in the UK and Ireland and qualify for a better life standard.

Majority of international students in the UK and Ireland come from countries where an average income for skilled labour is much lower than in Europe and with exceptions to the US students, paying for education in the UK or Ireland only makes good investment if students can seek employment in Europe, not their home country. For instance, an international student who studies business studies in the UK or Ireland will pay on average 40.000EURO in fees only plus the same amount for the expenses of living. The total bill is around 80.000EURO for an undergraduate degree excluding the opportunity cost. If this student is to return to his/her home country, they are probably looking at an annual gross income of 5.000-7.000, i.e. an income that they can earn anyway without going to the prestigious UK or Irish Universities.

Many international students fall prey to skyrocketing fees thinking that they will be able to take up employment in Europe once they hold BA or MA degree from the UK or Ireland. This may be true for medicine, science and software students where fees are much higher than for humanities and business degree. In the aforementioned fields fees range from 15.000-30.000EURO annually and only truly well-off students can afford to pay them.

Those unfortunate international students who have chosen a degree in business, law, politics, economics and other humanities disciplines face a rather grim reality.   The fact is that none will apply for a work permit for them, not in the UK or Ireland, nor in the mainland Europe.

Mainland Europe already has an oversupply of its own humanities graduates, while in the UK and Ireland notorious work permit procedures pre-empt employers from taking onboard international graduates. There may be graduate schemes in place whereby an international student is permitted to remain and work in the country for six months after graduating and seek employment, but graduates still have to comply with same procedures as other non-EU citizens seeking access to labour market. For example in Ireland, the wage must be at least 30.000EURO annually (many Irish humanities students settle for wage of 25.000EURO annually), the cost of a work permit is 1.500EURO and apart from the "red tape" there is an eight week test period where relevant State agencies ensure that work permit can only be issued if no Irish and/or EU citizens have the same skills to take up the employment. In addition, the work permits cannot be issued for secretarial and administrative work which is often a back door to building a career in many companies. So the door is closed before its even open and a chance that an international humanities or business student will be in a position to successfully gain return on its investment is bleak.

Furthermore, once the students have lost contact with the labour market in their home countries, which comes as an inevitable consequence of studying abroad for four years, students also lose out on building networks and understanding the needs home labour market to which they must return.

Finally, this article should by no means discourage students to study abroad, but only encourage them to rethink what their money is buying them. International students who are fortunate enough to get funding and scholarships should not hesitate to embark on studies in the UK and Ireland, but evidences suggest that the idea that UK and Irish education is highly valued by European employers is at odds with the reality.

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