Which Way UK: Welcome to the UK

British universities and colleges offer great social and academic prospects, says Wendy Berliner
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The Independent Online

If you are coming to the UK to study, congratulations - you've made the right choice. This country has been welcoming overseas students for generations - Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Choo were all at university here just to name four. Despite its small size, the UK has the second largest global share in the higher education market after the US, and it has it for a reason - its qualifications are internationally acclaimed.

Employers value UK higher education qualifications the world over because they can rely on their quality, so a UK qualification can enhance your employability while providing good value for money. Courses are short compared with those in many other countries; you can gain a degree in just three years.

As the UK domestic higher education market has grown in recent years, with more institutions and a bigger choice of courses, so has the international market. In a seven-year period ending in 2002/03, there was a 39 per cent increase in the numbers of international students studying the in the UK. In 2003/04 students from overseas made up 15.3 per cent of the first year population, so you have no need to worry about feeling isolated.

The UK itself is a vibrant multicultural society, particularly in the big cities and large towns, many of which teem with different nationalities. London, in particular, is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with an estimated 300 languages spoken and 45 per cent of Britain's non-white population living there. Britons come in all shapes, sizes and races and live together in a remarkably tolerant society.

Add to this the simple visa arrangements, compared to those enforced by US after 9/11, and the more relaxed rules on part-time working, and you can see why the UK is such a draw to the global student community.

So what can you expect when you get here? To begin with, you will find extremely well-run universities and higher education colleges, many of which take large numbers of international students and have staff on hand to help you with things like accommodation and settling in. If you are coming as a postgraduate and want to bring your family, lots of universities will be able to offer you family-sized accommodation.

You may well be invited to come before your university or college term starts so that you have time to settle in and get orientated - a process that will be helped along by welcome parties and perhaps a tour around the locality so that you can get your head round where everything is. Wherever you study you won't be far from great shopping and tourist opportunities which will set your cameras clicking. The UK has towns, cities and villages steeped in history and one of the most varied landscapes in the world. Even if you are located right in the centre of the country the sea is accessible and a lot of the coastline is staggeringly beautiful.

You also get three countries and a province in one when you come here. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland make up the UK and they are all proud of their differences and diversity. The UK's sport and culture is among the best in the world. Valery Gergiev, the globe-trotting conductor, is to be the next principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra - a real coup - and Liverpool beat AC Milan in spectacular fashion in the early summer to become the European football champions. There is also plenty of good stuff worth watching on TV and listening to on the radio so you can enjoy yourself inexpensively too.

Higher education institutions here take a pride in the pastoral care they provide for students, so there is always someone to turn to if you have a problem. Most medical care is free and there will also be representatives of the major religious faiths available, plus churches, temples and mosques, synagogues and other faith meeting places in the bigger towns and all of the cities.

Universities and colleges also take good academic care of you. You won't be spoon-fed but you will experience a range of teaching methods, including lectures, where you listen and take notes, and small seminar groups where your views and ideas will be actively sought after.

So it's over to you. All the ingredients are here in the UK for you to have an excellent education and a wonderful social life while you are here, and it's a chance to make friends both from Britain and all around the world. We look forward to seeing you.

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