A clearer picture of foreign study

Student fairs and proper research can help give you some crucial insights into overseas education, says Jessica Moore

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The Independent Online

‘Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse’, runs an African proverb. For those considering a university education, it’s advice worth heeding – and suitably international advice at that. “ A degree has become a commodity,” believes David Plummer from Solihull. “There’s a significant price tag. If you’re spending that sort of money, it makes sense to shop around.” By which he means: get online, get on the phone, and seek out the best product for the best value.

Plummer’s daughter has her heart set on a five-year dentistry course in Dubai. “You need to put in the research to make sure you’r e investing in the right way for your child. Although teaching in the UK is great, the standard of accommodation isn’t comparable to what we can get in the Middle East. Quality of life should match the quality of education.”

Such insights won’t fall in your lap: they require an investment of time. Adil Butt, 19, is considering universities both in the UK and overseas. “It’s particularly important to research international destinations”, he says. “You need to look online and talk to as many people as you can. Different countries have different systems and requirements. You need to find out what you’r e signing up to. I’d definitely try to visit, too.”

Plummer agrees: “Our son is travelling to Dubai soon, so we’ve arranged for him to visit the university on his sister’s behalf. We’ll also go as a family before she signs up.” If it sounds like an expensive selection process, Plummer feels “there’s no cheaper alternative”.

However, university fairs can help narrow the search. The recent Student World Fair in London, for example, gathered university staff and country representatives to share information about international study with interested UK students and their families.

The Copenhagen School of Design and Technology was among the exhibitors. “UK students are unlikely to know about the differences in education systems, courses and cultures in advance”, explains Ole Brandt, the university’s international coordinator. “The fair was an opportunity for us to talk to them about what they would find in Denmark and how that compares to the English university system.” Brandt believes it’s important for all parties – the universities, the prospective students and their families – to put in some research. “We find out about the English system so we can answer questions and understand the point of view of the students and parents asking them.” For students and their parents, “it would be a good idea to put together a list of questions. If there is anything we can’t answer on the spot, we can look into it and get back to them by phone or email. We’d be happy to build relationships that way,” Brandt says.

There is value in such communication. “I’ve been emailing universities and making lots of phone calls,” Plummer says. “The warmth we’ve been shown by the staff at my daughter’s favoured university and the level of assistance that we’ve got through our correspondence, reassures me that they will look after my child.” He found the Student World Fair helpful, too. “It gave us a chance to find out more about what is on offer internationally.”

For Sarah Mills, 17, the event saved her from making a wrong decision. “My friend and I were really excited about the idea of studying abroad. We did a lot of research online but talking to people from universities in person was really helpful for us both. It made me realise that I’m not ready to make the move, but it made my friend even more determined to go.”

Which just goes to prove the importance of thorough research. “My daughter isn’t going to university until 2013,” says Plummer. “We’ve started early because there’s a lot to collate. Even if your child doesn’t know what they want to study, it’s good to start talking to different universities to find out how their processes work. If you end up going with an international university, you’ll be glad that you put the time in.”

The next Student World Fair will be held at the Emirates Stadium, London on 17 March 2012. Visit www.thestudentworld.com