Category Archives: Studying in the UK

Semester in Oxford with Oxford International Study Centre

SEMESTER IN OXFORD

 We shall be arranging an exciting cultural and academic programme for students who have graduated from High School or University and who wish to take a Study Abroad programme. The essential features of the programme are:

  • Selected lectures in the University(www.ox.ac.uk)
  • Membership of the prestigious Oxford University Union and Debating Society(www.oxford-union.org)
  • Seminars and tutorials with a choice of over 20 subjects (at OISC)
  • Accommodation in the University (selected dates ) or with Oxford families
  • Hosted lunch in a College of the University
  • “Behind closed doors” visit to the colleges and libraries of the University

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Growing trend of students abusing ADHD drugs for improved academic performance.

A leading pharmacist is concerned about the growing number of students in the UK illegally trading prescription ADHD medicines to improve their concentration during exams. This trend was first observed in the USA and Chemist Direct worries that it has gained a foothold in Britain with students not fully aware of the potential dangers associated with abusing these drugs.

A recent study by Professor Barbara Sahakian, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, has revealed that one in ten Cambridge students admitted to have taken drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil as a study aid. Whilst UK students’ recreational drug use has been well documented, there exists little or no research into ADHD drug use at any of the UK’s other 132 universities. We could potentially be looking at a vast number of student users.

Omar El-Gohary, Superintendent Pharmacist at Chemist Direct, explained that ADHD drugs work by stimulating the part of the brain which deals with behaviour, increasing levels of dopamine and adrenaline in a manner similar to cocaine.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin), dexamfetamine and atomoxetine are the three most prevalent ADHD treatment drugs, and have been found to improve memory, attention and planning skills in people with or without ADHD.

The short-term benefits of using these drugs have not been lost on the student population. One recent graduate from the University of Leeds (who asked to remain anonymous and shall be known as Student A) admitted using Ritalin and Modafinil, a drug used to treat narcolepsy, during exam time.

Now in a junior position at a financial institution in the City of London, he described his experiences on the drug: “It just makes you concentrate. You don’t look up from your revision, you just concentrate. Furthermore, it seems to stick in your mind. I can’t explain it but your memory recall is improved, however, this last effect only kicks in after a couple weeks of being on the drug”.

Another student, who still regularly uses Ritalin as a study aid described similar effects: “They make me really focused, sometimes hyper, a little dehydrated. I feel like I lose a bit of my personality”.

The loss of personality this student experiences aligns with some of the more worrying side effects of consistent misuse of Ritalin, such as irritability, depression and even psychosis.
Donald Singer, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Warwick, highlights the danger in using these drugs without professional medical supervision: “Use without clinical advice may mean that important underlying conditions are not identified, for example high blood pressure, disorders of heart rhythm, psychiatric risk; and potential important interactions with other drugs (including other stimulants) may not be considered”.

What is even more troubling, is that without professional medical supervision, students abusing these drugs are given complete freedom to decide on their own dosage.
Mr El-Gohary notes that “drugs acting on dopamine pathways do have the potential to become addictive. At normal treatment doses these drugs are not addictive. If these drugs are abused at higher doses, the potential for addiction and dependence greatly increases”. He also fears that the drugs obtained from illicit sources may be counterfeit and contain dangerous contaminants.

Student A, who obtained his Ritalin through a Fijian website, explained his greater need for the drug come exam time: “When I first started taking them the effects were strong, one tablet would last for most of the day. However, pretty quickly one builds up a tolerance to it. When it came to exams (after about a month of taking them) I would have to take about 3 a day for the same effect as to begin with.”

It is also important to recognise that Ritalin is a Class B drug, so students caught using could face a five year prison sentence rather than just disciplinary action from their university.
Whilst the students we spoke to have only experienced minor side effects and low levels of dependence, we still don’t have a clear picture of just how many students are abusing these drugs during exam times. Will it take the publicised suffering of one unfortunate student to raise the alarm?

Ultimately, universities need to be aware that these drugs are being taken and alert their students to the dangers; physically, psychologically and legally.
If you find yourself cracking under the pressure of exams and coursework in the coming academic year, Chemist Direct offer a variety of vitamin and mineral supplements that can relieve stress and help you concentrate.

This post was submitted by Jamie Waddell.

How to Find Your Student Accommodation

For international students, finding a place to stay is high up on the list of priorities. Most have some kind of idea of what kind of place they’d like, but actually finding acceptable accommodation can be tricky. Here’s a quick list to help you on your way.

1. Start Early

You’d be surprised how quickly the best and most conveniently located student accommodation will be booked. Give yourself the widest possible choice by starting to look as early as you can. If you leave it too late, you could miss out on some great properties. Remember too that many areas don’t have enough accommodation, so get in early!

2. Where?

This is a very important question to ask yourself. Pick a couple of ideal areas and limit your property search to those areas. You quest for student accommodation will be much more efficient if done in this way. Living close to your education provider might be want you want (nice lie ins!) but, you should probably expect to pay extra for such a luxury. Don’t forget to research the local area, perhaps asking locals, friends and even your education agent – so you can avoid any undesirable areas – they may seem attractive, as rent is often quite a lot lower, but remember to stay safe.

3. To share or not?

If you live with friends or your fellow students, you can expect other costs related to your student accommodation to be lower. If you’re looking for students to share with, check local message boards, community groups online and your university students’ union.

4. Get viewing!

Arguably the most important step. You’d never buy something without seeing it, so why commit to renting property you haven’t seen? Viewing student accommodation is important to ensure you are happy with it, to ask any questions you may have and to see if you feel at home.

5. Extras?

Also find out what extras you will be responsible for paying. Some student accommodation includes wireless internet access and water, heating etc bills, whereas others will require you to pay this in addition to the rent.

6. How accessible?

What’s the transport like around the property? Can you easily get to and from university? How will you get back home late at night? What kind of time will have you to leave in the mornings to get to class on time?

Good luck!

Join the UK PostGrad Club if you can

A new report his highlighted that lack of funding available for UK postgraduate study.

The CentreForum report was written by influential figures from business and education, who are joined by a belief that there should be better postgraduate funding for students. The report – backed by Julian Hupper, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge – has chapters written by the British Academy, Confederation of British Industry (CBI), GuildHE, Higher Education Commission, National Union of Students (NUS), Russell Group, Sutton Trust and respected economists Joanne Lindley and Stephen Machin.

Likening UK postgraduate education to an “exclusive golf club”, the report is critical of the fact that top tier postgraduate courses in the UK are for the UK and world’s wealthy. The report claims this to be driven by rising costs of tuition and real term cuts in research and funding council support. Despite the rising value of such postgraduate courses in the global workplace, there is a falling number of home student enrolments.

The report is highly critical of the Professional and Career Development Loan (PCDL) scheme, discribing it as “breathtakingly inadequate”. However, the UK’s Universities Minister, David Willetts, wishes to expand the scheme.

Only a very small number of postgraduate students have been able to secure funding from the PCDL and the repayment terms have been widely criticised. Even the famed MoneySavingExpert website in the UK urges potential applicants to take personal loans to repay funding from the PCDL upon graduation.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has also contirbuted to a chapter in the report, uring the government to scrap the PCDL scheme. NUS and CentreForum would both prefer to see a similar loan system as used for undergraduate students.

The report also calls for action from the universities themselves. More should be down to expand their endowment capacity and access of financial markets to create their own loan funds for postgraduate students. The report also asks for universities to collect much needed data on funding arrangements and the suppressed demand for postgraduate study due to economic concerns.

Julian Huppert MP, who wrote the foreword to the report, said:

“Successive higher education reviews have swept this issue under the carpet. Social mobility and the economy are suffering as a result, and people are being deprived of opportunities. We need to review postgraduate funding as a matter of urgency.”

Rachel Wenstone, NUS Vice-President (Higher Education), said:

“Thousands of talented people are denied the chance to go into postgraduate education simply because they don’t have access to the ready cash needed to pay the fees upfront. You increasingly have to be either extremely rich, extremely lucky, or take an extreme gamble, taking on dangerous levels of debt, to take a master’s in this country.”

“A master’s degree improves your chances of finding a job, leads to higher salaries and opens all kinds of doors, and the reduced unemployment and economic growth that comes with that helps the economy too. Rather than pushing to expand the current disastrously failing system the government need to listen to experts and find an alternative that provides real support for students to pay their fees and support themselves while they study.”

Tom Frostick, co-editor of the report, said:

“Everyone agrees that widening access to postgraduate study is the right course of action. It is time that something is done about it.”

Key recommendations from the report:

  • Government should prioritise the collection of data to establish whether current funding arrangements are suppressing demand for postgraduate education
  • A representative pilot should be commissioned to test the postgraduate loans models put forward by CentreForum and NUS
  • Government should amend Home Office rules on the employment of overseas students in the UK workforce after finishing their studies
  • Funding and scholarship models for postgraduate research should be structured around a four year minimum period of study (not three)
  • Groups of universities should source funds from financial markets and use the money raised from bond issuances as a facility for postgraduate students to access
  • The tax treatment of large donations to universities should be made simpler to incentivise giving and help institutions increase their endowment capacity
  • Universities should link a proportion of their endowment funding to a postgraduate scholarship programme targeted at students from low income backgrounds
  • Successful collaboration between universities and business should be actively promoted by the sector
  • As a matter of urgency, universities must review their flexible learning arrangements to ensure they can cater for students who do not wish to commit to full time postgraduate study

More and More Chinese Students Look Abroad

The numbers of Chinese nationals turning to study abroad is rising year-on-year. Many are looking for alternatives to the stressful preparation for the Chinese College Entrance Exam.

For example, Yang Dongdong is a 16 year-old boy in the top of his class at school. Of his class he says, “in a class like mine, half of the students will end up in Tsinghua or Peking University.”

In Beijing, 72,736 students registered to take the gaokao, down from 126,000 in 2006.

Both are top Chinese universities. But, Yang has decided on an alternative route. “If I want to enter a university like Tsinghua or Peking, I have to pay too much attention to the gaokao (the college entrance exam). I’d like to have more fun and diverse experiences at high school, which I can talk about for the rest of my life”. He plans to study in the UK.

Yang is just one example among thousands. In 2012, China’s Ministry of Education reported that there were 399,600 Chinese students studying overseas. This is an increase of 17.65% over the previous year.

The USA has is a popular study destination amongst Chinese students, with overall numbers increasing by 23% in 2011 – 2012, and those studying at undergraduate level are up 31%.

Overseas universities are welcoming of Chinese international students and some have even started to accept the gaokao qualification: six universities already do in Australia, with the University of Sydney being the most recent to begin accepting it in 2012. It took Australia a decade to recognise the importance of accepting the gaokao results as an official qualification, as Eliza Chui – education consul at the Australian consulate-general in Shanghai – explains: “In mid-2000, the government noticed the number of Chinese undergraduate students was increasing and we researched the best way to accept students from China.”

“The research looked into the entrance examination curriculum, what type of exams they take, and how different provinces actually use the results. It was in-depth research.’”

One can only hope that the UK also looks into this in order to remain competitive. There is little doubt that the numbers of Chinese international students will continue to rise, as more Chinese become wealthy.

More and more Chinese international students are self-funded. China’s Ministry of Education reported that 380,000 of 400,000 students studying overseas in 2012 were self-funded.

Yang’s mother, Gan Xiaoying, a retired doctor, supports her son’s decision to study abroad. “We are not a super-wealthy family but we can afford his overseas study.” His family put-aside $163,000 – 1 million Chinese yuan – for his studies. “A one-bedroom apartment in Beijing is worth more than 1 million yuan now. Chinese people are getting rich, and children’s education is always the priority.”

Will the UK’s Student Immigration Crackdown Lead to a Loss of Talent?

Much has been said about the UK Coalition Government’s progress on its pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands” per year. Data recently released shows that for the period ending September 2012, net migration was down to 153,000 from 242,000 previously. But this has definitely come at a cost. In the quest for headline grabbing news, immigration rules have been changed regularly, preventing many migrants who can benefit the UK from coming.

This significant drop in the net migration figures has been driven largely by falling numbers of international student migrants. Students have faced the most pressure, simply because they are the largest single group of migrants arriving in the UK in any given year – they represent about 60% of all non-EU migration (whether or not they should be counted in net migration figures is another topic altogether).

So the easiest way – if not only way – for UK Ministers to meet their pledge is to reduce the number of students coming to study – and spend – in the UK. Is this approach a suitable bed-fellow for a country claiming to be “open for business”? Is the target not completely incompatible with the UK’s other aim of growing the UK’s share of international student migrants, and in particularly in developing the higher education sector?

You can’t mention politics and student immigration without being drowned out by shouts of “abuse!”. Granted, in the past there had been a significant problem with the UK’s visa system. However, many steps have now been taken to address these concerns. Both the current and previous governments took steps to close down bogus colleges and reduce the number of non-genuine students arriving in the UK. Whilst some concerns of student visa abuse still linger – particularly surround Student Visitor visas – the large reduction in the number of students coming to the UK can’t be accounted for as cutting out abuse. The reduction in numbers exceeds even the highest estimates of levels of abuse. Large numbers of genuine students must have been caught up, and a great many more put-off studying in the UK entirely.

There must be a cost of all this to Brand UK and the UK economy. International students by their nature of mostly temporary migrants, who make significant contributions to the UK economy – some £8bn per year in tuition fees, accommodation and maintenance.

Further, with significant budget cuts to the UK higher education sector, international students serve an important role in funding places for home students. Indeed, they’ve helped keep some courses open. Given that a large number of universities successfully recruit international students already in the UK education system, the full impact of all the visa rule changes on the higher education sector is yet to be seen.

It is worrying that many science, technology, engineering and mathematics departments rely heavily on international students for their existence. The gifted international student unable to get a visa to study at a UK further education college this year might have been the star student in a university maths department in 2015, and the top lecturer in that department in 2030.

What of the businessmen and industry leaders of the future? Will 2015’s IT entrepreneur find themselves graduating from Stanford, handily located for Silicon Valley, rather than from Imperial, handily located for Silicon Roundabout. Or will 2020’s industrial magnate find themselves fondly remembering student days in Toronto, rather than Manchester, when making their investment decisions. Or could even a country’s prime minister in 2030 find greater affinity with Australia, the country where they completed their graduate studies, than with the ever-more-distant UK?

Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College wins Queen’s Award Again

The International Student Centre at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college has once more received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.

It won after being put forward by David Cameron for its role as a market leader in global Further Education recruitment.

The nomination was in recognition of the centre’s sustained and outstanding contribution to the UK economy over the past eight years.

The college first got the Queen’s Award in 2008, when its international centre was still relatively new.

Paula Whittle, Chief Executive and Principal of the College, said: “Winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for the second time is a momentous accomplishment.

“We have been recognised by Her Majesty for playing our part in the country’s international trading environment and we are proud to be a trusted, high quality and affordable destination for international students from over 115 countries.”

She added: “The award highlights the fact that we have been a market leader of international Further Education recruitment to the UK for the past six years.

“We have achieved this by constantly redeveloping our offer to meet the needs of our global job market, equipping students with employability skills as well as qualifications.”

The International Student Centre, led by Director of International College, Catherine Vines, has grown from a team of three staff to over 102.

Q & A with English UK Head

Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, talks about the association’s recent communication with the UK’s Government.

What has English UK been up to in the last 12 months?

We have continued with our own very successful series of small fairs. We’ve also organised some promotional trips and taken part in other workshops and events in Turkey, Russia, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Brazil and Kurdistan. And we brought agents on an inward mission to Central England. We refreshed our flagship even, StudyWorld London. And with almost 900 attendees, it was our biggest yet. In addition, we take our role in professional development very seriously. We’ve run our regular conference for the ELT sector in the UK in management, marketing, business English and the annual conference. We’ve also run a huge range of more than 30 one-day training courses, as well as a diploma course for ELT managers and a certificate course for welfare officers. Recently we have also had a central role in re-forming the Joint Education Taskforce, the key body through which the English language sector talks to the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

What challenges to members face in regards to the Extended Student Visitor Visa (ESSV)?

There is a very volatile situation at the moment, but our statistics show that our members are very good at diversifying. Many have moved out of Tier 4 and are concentrating on Europe or using the Student Visitor Visa (SVV) and ESSV successfully. We’ve also noticed that adult numbers are down, but junior courses are booming – up by 21%. At our annual conference, UKBA’s Neil Hughes said that the main reason the ESVV had not been written into the Immigration Rules was that the UKBA wanted to make sure the route was not abused. The ESVV was going to be included in an overall review, and while he couldn’t give any promises, he told us he was “quite content” with what was happening with the visa and members found a refusal rate of 8%, which compares very favourably with the 20% threshold for Highly Trusted Status (HTS). So all that gives us hope, together with the UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech of last year which suggested strongly that the government was interested in boosting tourism, in particular from areas such as China. It would clearly concern member centres if the ESVV were not made permanent. At present, it’s hard for members making use of this visa to plan ahead with confidence.

What research have you done on non-accredited language schools in the UK?

Our predecessor, Arels, put together a list of 560 non-accredited language schools in 2002. We wanted to get an idea of the scale of the problem, because our members were certain that these institutions were sources of blatant abuse of the student visa system. We’ve kept this list going, checking it again four years ago when we found most of them were still active and giving cause for concern. This year we made it a priority for our researcher to work her way through the list. She found that 45% were no longer operating as language schools, 27% were taking EU students only, and 22% now had some form of accreditation, which is better than nothing. So, almost 95% of those suspect colleges are no longer actively recruiting students in breach of immigration rules. The remained, 6%, failed a “mystery shopper” exercise carried out by our researcher. I’m pleased to say that is was English UK that raised the issue of bogus colleges as an immigration loophole and persisted in drawing this to the attention of ministers and the UKBA.

Indian Students in the UK the Target of Fraud

There have been a number of reports that Indian nationals in the UK – including a large number of Tier 4 student visa holders – have been targeted in a telephone fraud operation. Students at a number of universities have received calls from individuals pertaining to be from the UK Border Agency (UKBA). False names are being given and the telephone number 020 3239 8294 is being quoted.

These calls most definitely are not from the UKBA.

The fraudsters seem to have collected limited information about their targets, including phone number, full name and passport number, which may cause some people to view the calls as genuine and credible.

The calls all play out in a typical fashion: there is a serious problem with your immigration status and you must make an immediate payment by Western Union (this should start your alarm bells ringing!).

Payment is demanded to prevent action or investigation by the UKBA. Dramatic and highly emotive language is often used as is regular reference to deportation. The common fraudster theme of pressure and panic is all too apparent here.

The incidents have been reported to the UKBA and they have stated that they are taking the matter very seriously. Whilst it is true that UKBA caseworkers may on very rare occasions contact an individual with a pending application, they would not contact an existing visa holder in this way. Further, the UKBA does not have any system of financial penalties.

What remains unanswered however is how the fraudsters have obtained details such as passport numbers.

Should you get such a call we offer some simple advice:

  • Do not confirm or provide any further personal information.
  • Do not under any circumstances make any payment.
  • You could note down the name and return phone number given to you or you could simply hang-up.
  • Report the call to your international student advisor and if you would like to proceed, they can help you file a fraud complaint with the police and the UKBA.
  • The call can also be reported online to Action Fraud

Australia, UK and USA – which is more expensive?

Which country is more expensive for an international student? The UK, USA or Australia?

The UK HE International Unit has just carried out research into tuition fees and living costs for international students at degree level and above at universities in different countries.

Unfortunately, they are not able to share the full report with us, as it was funded by and for UK HE institutions, however they have shared the foreword and executive summary which we will publish shortly.

The good news is that the UK is very competitive – both for tuition fees and living costs. Here are some key facts from the report:

  • Based on currency fluctuations, since 2008, the cost of studying in the UK has dropped by 24.5% for Chinese students and nearly 10% for Indian students
  • The UK is cheaper than the US in terms of fees charged, based on the institutions surveyed in the study.
  • Fees at Australian universities in the study exceed those in the UK, even at institutions ranked lower than their UK counterparts. For example an international student would pay around £16,000 a year for an undergraduate degree in history, whereas the same course at the University of Oxford costs around £12,000.
  •  The UK is cheaper than the US, Australia and the Netherlands in terms of living costs. The US was reported as the most expensive (£18,531 a year at Harvard).
  • Living costs in the Netherlands and Germany are similar to those in the UK, although large cities such as Berlin and Amsterdam are more expensive. Singapore also has similar reported living costs to the UK, but institutions in Malaysia and China report much lower costs of living £1-2,000 per annum in China and £2-4,000 in Malaysia, due to the greatly reduced student housing available in these countries.

International Pricing Study: A snapshot of UK and key competitor country international student fees’, a study by the UK HE International Unit, 2011:

Introduction

Findings and Recommendations