Attending the January Education UK exhibition? Make the most of it by asking all the right questions
Which course of study is should I choose?
Which institution would suit me best?
Which location will give me the best lifestyle?
By Steve Corry, Senior Manager, British Council Hong Kong
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the right school or university, and the ‘right’ one depends on your own individual needs and future plans. The EducationUK exhibition is a great opportunity to ask institutions all the right questions to help make the most informed decision.
Questions to ask can perhaps be summarised into the following areas:
- UK as a study destination
- UK education system
- Location and lifestyle
- Choosing the right course of study
- Choosing the right institution
UK as a study destination
When considering overseas education the first question you have probably considered is which country to go to. Relevant to this is how long it will take to obtain your degree. With three years the standard length of an undergraduate degree in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and four years in Scotland (however with entry into second year often possible depending on your secondary school qualification), and one year Masters, this is often shorter than in other countries such as the United States.
Understanding the true cost of studying in the UK is also important for your planning, including not just tuition, but also living costs. According to HSBC’s value of education report, the total cost of an undergraduate degree in the UK is US$119,513 compared with US$165,231 in the United States. This website includes tips on budgeting under the practical advice section (scholarships and money); institutions may also be able to provide advice on living costs and ways to manage your budget in the UK and their specific location.
UK Education system
For some students progression from Hong Kong to the UK system might be straight-forward, for example with the right grades, graduating from the HKDSE can get you direct entry into UK undergraduate degrees. However for many students direct entry might not be possible, in which case there are many choices of how to obtain a suitable entry qualification. UK A-Levels, a foundation programme, or Higher National Diploma at a College are examples. There is no single best route, rather each have their own advantages, and what is the best option may be different for different students depending on future goals. For example, A-Levels may have advantages if you already have a subject for future study in mind, a foundation programme may ‘ease’ you in to overseas study with more support, while studying at a college will prepare you for university study by training you to learn independently as per students at a university. To find which route is best for you, ask the exhibitors at the exhibition based on your own academic record and what you hope to study in the future.
Location and lifestyle
In order to succeed while studying overseas, students of course need to be healthy and happy. This may mean different things to different students. For some, a quiet environment away from large cities may make it easier to focus on studies, however for others this environment might be too much of a shock compared to the noise and activity of Hong Kong. As this is a personal preference it is advisable to ask the institution what the environment is like, and then decide if it is best for you. Another consideration is whether you want many Hong Kong students around. For some this might make the transition to the UK more comfortable, however having fewer Hong Kong students might give a brave student a more immersive overseas experience.
Living in a comfortable setting a convenient distance from the school or campus may also make studying easier. Institutions should also be able to answer questions about accommodation options and typical transport that students take to their campus.
Campus facilities can also be an important consideration, but those directly related to courses (such as laboratories) or not related to the course of study, such as sports and recreation facilities. Most UK institutions have very modern facilities and update or build new facilities regularly, if particular facilities are important to you, then ask!
Choosing the right course of study
Education is of course not just an end, but a route to a successful career. How effective a study programme is in preparing students for the workforce is typically called graduate employability, and refers to success in developing soft skills demand by employers. Universities will also often advertise their graduate employment results, which are often measured by the percentage of students who have entered an appropriate job role (one expected of a graduate) within six months. Another thing to remember is that graduates often work in areas not directly related to their field of study, and employers will often deliberately hire graduates from a range of different academic backgrounds. It is therefore a good idea to ask exhibitors what their graduates have progressed on to do.
In Hong Kong the labour market is tight, meaning lots of job opportunities for graduates, however starting salaries are low, and it can be difficult finding a role that meets expectations. HR companies publish reports on salaries by industry, and this is useful knowledge for planning which career to enter. At graduate level at least, engineers for example earn significantly more than business graduates, and the number of people who study business means that they face a very competitive recruitment market.
People tend to succeed in things that they enjoy or are passionate about, so personal interest is also important in choosing a course of study and career. If you are interested in a certain area ask different institutions what programmes they offer.
Choosing the right institution
When choosing an institution many people first look at rankings, however finding the best institution for you is not that straight forward. While overall rankings give a very general picture, different institutions have different strengths in specific subject areas. Subject rankings may give a better indicator of how strong a university is in the area you are considering to study. Even still, university rankings may reflect aspects that are not directly relevant to an undergraduate student, such as research output. There are other measures to look at, such as student satisfaction. In England a student satisfaction survey is conducted each year by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which measures student opinions on the quality of their course, with results published on the HEFCE and unistats websites. At the exhibition you can look beyond overall rankings and ask institutions about their subject strengths and student satisfaction.
Hopefully this gives you some pointers on how to select the best UK education option for you. We hope you make the most of the EducationUK exhibition and make a wise decision leading to successful study!