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Foreign students struggling to pay for UK university

Foreign students struggling to pay for UK university

For Mani, a 21-year-old student from India, studying in the UK is something he's always been set on.

He says he admires the "reputation of British universities" and wants to follow in the footsteps of his Dad who studied in London. But, as he explains to Radio 1 Newsbeat, he now has doubts.

"Everything was fine when I had funds, but now when I need help and the university aren't helping me, I'm questioning my choice. Was coming to the UK for my education the right thing to do?" Mani says.

When the pandemic started in March 2020, Mani was two years into his three-year course at a London university.

He had the option to stay in the UK, but as his course was deferred, chose to fly home to be with family.

That's now resulted in increased costs.

'I felt really shocked'

Whilst in India, his three-year student visa expired and in order to get a new one approved, he needed to have £40,000 in the bank. It's an amount he's struggled to meet.

Mani requested help from his university, who said they couldn't help with finances, instead offering him the chance to defer until he can find the funds.

"I felt really shocked. I don't want to defer for another year and delay getting a job, so it's given my family no option but to put our house up for mortgage."

'Financial stress'

In 2019/20 there were 538,615 international students studying in the UK - according to Universities UK.

Gian was one of them. From Kenya, he recently completed his undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Bristol and is now returning to take an MA, but getting back hasn't been easy.

Picture of Gian smilingimage source, Gian
image captionGian has said he won't fly back to Kenya until it's off the red list

"Kenya is on the red list, which means flights to the UK are rare and expensive. Two of mine were cancelled last minute which just added to the stress, and the flight I did get on was a last minute thing," he says.

"All in all my three cancelled flights, hotel quarantine, Covid tests and transfers has cost around £3,000."

Luckily for Gian, his university have said they will reimburse the cost of quarantine, but until that fund comes through, it's been his parents who've had to pay.

"It's a lot of financial stress on my family and it's made me question studying in the UK."

Support for students

Universities are aware of the problems international students are facing. To help, many are offering to cover the costs of PCR tests and quarantine fees. Some like Sussex and Liverpool are even chartering flights to get students to the UK on time.

Independent think tank HEPI recently found every part of the UK is 'financially better off' - on average by £390 per person - because of international students and the money they bring to the economy.

Their analysis shows that just one year's intake of incoming international students is worth £28.8 billion to the UK economy.

Universities UK represent higher education institutions across the UK and say they're aware of the "challenges Covid-19 has presented" and are working to make the lives of international students easier by introducing things like remote learning.

They're also encouraging "any student experiencing challenges to contact their university to understand what support is on offer."

"I question if it's worth the money'

Angela is 21 and from Madrid, she's currently in her final year of studying at the University of Bristol.

Like Mani, Angela's course was also deferred, and her visa expired too. It's meant she's had to reapply for an extension, which involved flying home to Spain five times in the last six months.

"It's been really stressful and made me very anxious. You never know if your flight will go ahead, or whether the country will move to a red list," she tells Newsbeat.

"Each time I've had to pay the huge cost of flights as well as the PCR tests. It's also a big use of my time."

Stock image of people waiting at an airportimage source, Getty Images
image captionAngela says she's spent hundreds of pounds on flights

Because she's double vaccinated, Angela won't have to quarantine when she lands back in the UK this time, but she's concerned about her vaccine passport.

"I had one vaccine in the UK and the other in Spain, so I don't have an NHS or EU Covid pass so that might cause problems."

It's also making her doubt the high fees.

"It really puts into question whether it's worth the additional money. Because of inflation, the costs keep rising, I started out paying £18,100 a year, and this year I'm paying £21,100 despite lots of studying being online".

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