Tag Archives: Applications to international universities

Advice for British students looking to study medicine, dentistry or vet med abroad after A level results day.

Every year we speak to hundreds of students who know that they will not be able to get a place in the UK to study their chosen profession, usually because they have exhausted their options here already or their AS levels did not support an application straight out of school. Such students have an advantage in that they are able to plan their next move in a timely manner, investigating the full implications of studying abroad for somewhere between five and seven years.

It is those students who are holding offers in the UK which they narrowly miss who are likely to be facing a big decision on where their future lies. If this is a dilemma that you are facing for the first time this week, or if it has suddenly become real, this advice is for you. It is based on the typical questions that students ask us when starting to think about studying abroad. Clearly, there are many aspects of the decision that we cannot influence, you might decide that medicine or dentistry is not the route for you after all, and we can never know your own personal circumstances, but we think there are many questions you will have where we can perhaps help.

  1. How do I choose the right medical/dental/vet school?

Which is the best medical school in Europe that is easiest to get in to? This is a typical first question from students and it is an awful one. Is the best option likely to be the easiest? It might very well be the most affordable (what you get and what you pay for aren’t always the same thing) but getting into medical school just means you have jumped the first hurdle – there are many other things to consider.

Obviously you need to know that you meet the entry requirements (and if you don’t have both chemistry and biology A levels, or if you have BTECs or an Access to HE qualification you quite possibly won’t) and that your grades will be acceptable but many medical, dental or vet schools won’t actually care about your grades. What they will care about is how you do in their own entrance exam and this is the first problem that you will face: you are quite possibly too late to apply for 2016 admission. Some schools will have exams in the next few weeks in London; recruiting British students after results day is a well-established practice. The entrance exam for Italian public medical schools takes place next month but you would need to have registered for this already.

Once you have satisfied yourself that you stand a chance of getting a place, the next question I would ask is probably the most important of all: how many students start in the first year and how many of those graduate on target five (or more usually six) years later? How many of these are the same people? You will undoubtedly come across agents offering guaranteed places. Do you really want to go to a medical school that accepts just about anyone who can afford it? This is one area where you really do get what you pay for in the sense that private, more expensive medical schools are likelier to cap the size of their classes at a sensible number. For example, the number of students at Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome is 54 per year and their students are well supported throughout their time at the university. The maximum number of students at European University of Cyprus is 100 per year. The typical first-year intake of some Bulgarian medical schools is well over 1,000. Italian public universities are notorious for overcrowding but these latter options will be significantly cheaper. You could make a strong case for it being a worse investment, however.

  1. Will I need to learn a foreign language?

For most British students the next thing to consider is the language in which the course will be taught ie. will it be in English? There are an increasing number of options taught entirely in English but they are not available in all European countries. For example, we get many students who wish to study in Germany and Scandinavian countries because tuition fees there are zero. There is no chance of this happening if you don’t speak the language (and, let’s be honest, your chances are exceedingly slim even if you do – Polish, Hungarian and Czech medical schools are full of Norwegian and German students). Every year we come across one or two new European options but they are usually in the same countries:

  • Medicine – central and eastern Europe, Netherlands (50% in Dutch), Italy, Cyprus and Malta
  • Dentistry – central and eastern Europe, Spain
  • Veterinary Medicine – central and eastern Europe, Spain (50% in Spanish)

It is quite rare for British students to combine A levels in languages with sciences (if you haven’t, you have already ruled out your chances of studying medicine in Malta, for example). In many students’ imagination, learning a foreign language seems like an insurmountable task. If you live in a country where it is spoken, the language should be much easier to acquire than in a GCSE class a few hours a week. In most cases (exceptions noted above) your classes and exams will be entirely in English. You will need to speak the local language to deal with patients and, to put it bluntly, you cannot become a doctor or a dentist if you cannot deal with patients (vets have owners to think about). We occasionally have students who insist that they will only go to places where they can qualify entirely in English and this is possible: if you have the money, by all means go to the Caribbean or Australia (Ireland is extremely unlikely and the USA will almost certainly bankrupt you). For most people, however, studying health sciences abroad means studying elsewhere in Europe and that means learning a language. It is fair to say that Spanish might be easier to learn than Bulgarian or Czech (not to mention more useful later in life) but if you go into this thinking that you can minimize the importance of learning the local language, you are going into this with the wrong frame of mind and we would encourage you to think twice.

  1. Will my degree be GMC/GDC/RCVS recognized?

Yes. But here is the one area where Brexit could have a major impact on your future. European degrees will not suddenly become worse overnight if we are no longer legally obliged to recognize them. Given the sheer number of foreign-qualified doctors, dentists and vets working in the UK (not to mention Brits working abroad), there will be problems if we suddenly stop recognizing foreign qualifications. However, it is possible that this will happen. I cannot rule it out; nobody can. All I can say is that if you start from where you are today and you want to become a doctor in the shortest time possible, going to study in Europe is probably still the best move.

  1. Should I take an alternative Bachelor’s degree in the UK and try for graduate entry?

No.

OK, I appreciate that my advice here might be biased and needs to be tempered by all the other considerations that you will have. However, I think it is definitely something you need to hear as it might contradict what you will be told by other sources.

Clearly, many students in the UK are attracted to options that appear to keep them on track to becoming a doctor or dentist after the completion of a Bachelor’s degree. However, this doesn’t always work and there are precious few graduate-entry routes available elsewhere in Europe. This means that upon completion of a 3 year BSc in Biomedical Science, for example, you might have to start at the beginning again at a European medical, dental of vet school. Given the sheer expense involved in studying in the UK now (and the fact that money will be required to study abroad), does it really make sense to start down this path even if it is the only one that might be readily available to you this week?

Every year we have students who drop out midway through a BSc to start their studies abroad before they have graduated here. Their prior study is not always taken into consideration by their new university, meaning that their UK studies are effectively worthless. Of course, I do not believe them to be worthless but they have no impact at all on the length of time required to train as a doctor, dentist or vet. At most, a prior degree might shorten your studies by one year.

  1. How much is it going to cost?

Well, given that you are looking at a five or six-year commitment, you can expect it to be expensive. However, there is a wide range of potential tuition fees and living costs. It is probably best to check our website for the cost of individual courses.

The one financial consideration that is the same wherever you go is that British student finance isn’t going to travel with you; you are on your own financially. This usually means that the decision to study abroad is one that needs to be taken as a family. You definitely need to get their input when trying to decide what is feasible. There is absolutely no point in applying to a university if you know you will not be able to afford to take up your place there. Scholarships and bursaries are extremely rare. Many universities that offer them to other students actually make exemptions for students of medicine and dentistry. To once again put it bluntly, as an international student you are a cash-cow. You will be expected to contribute to the bottom line, not subtract from it.

The only country currently operating a student loan system that you might be able to access is Bulgaria. Even here, there are restrictions on the loans and last year, the system ran out of money before all students were able to complete their application. It is worth checking the current status of the student loan system in Bulgaria before committing to a place there, especially if you will not be able to afford to study there otherwise.

  1. Do I need an agent to get into medical, dental or vet school abroad?

Once again, my advice on this point is a little biased based on my own experience but I can perhaps offer some perspective on this issue that you might not otherwise get.

If you are looking to apply last-minute for 2016 entry, you are almost certainly going to need help. Applications can be complicated procedures but often the part that is least tricky is getting you a place. Obviously, this depends on supply and demand as well as your academic record but if you meet the required standard, and places are available, it is often quite easy to arrange to sit an entrance exam or get an offer letter if this isn’t necessary.

Meeting the other requirements around payment, translation of documents, moving to a new country etc. are all examples of issues where you might need assistance. However, none of these are of any importance at all if you do not have an offer letter even though some agents will make you pay for these services up front even if you never end up needing them. There is no point applying to a university if you just want to see what would happen if you put in an application. This is a waste of everyone’s time and most university representatives should be able to give you a good idea of your chances without submitting a formal application.

I can also see it from an agent’s point of view. You are likely to be considering multiple options, sometimes at the same university using different representatives. This can create a conflict of interests and nobody likes to work on the basis that they might never get paid for their efforts. It is therefore understandable that some agents will charge fees before you get an offer letter. This has led to an incredibly competitive marketplace, a race-to-the-bottom particularly around medical schools in Bulgaria and Romania. Last time I counted, there were over 40 representatives offering places at these schools to UK and Irish students with fees ranging from around £750 to £3,000. While I can sympathise with agents who need to operate this way, I also cannot see how this situation can be squared with offering impartial advice to young people who are facing a huge decision about their future.

There are agents out there who will offer free advice. We work as an agent with a handful of medical, dental and veterinary medicine schools and we do not charge students for our services. However, this also means there are many options where we cannot help you any further than just offering general advice. The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with just that information. We really don’t have much more to say about other options. If you would like assistance with any of the following universities for 2016/17 admission, please feel free to contact us for more detailed information:

Medicine

Dentistry

Veterinary Medicine

 

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City firms not finding what they need in independent school students.

Earlier this week, Mary Curnock Cook, head of Ucas, spoke at the HMC annual conference in St Andrews and suggested that independent schools are preparing students with narrow, almost identical outlooks on life. The necessary conclusion of this being that the life experience of such students does not provide the diversity that successful organisations need in the 21st Century.

Quoted in The Daily Telegraph she said, “It seems to me that not only are (independent school) students going to the same universities that their parents went to, but they are also studying the same subjects that their parents did.

“So I worry about a little sub-section of society which is sleepwalking though an identikit education experience into an off-the-peg life which mirrors what generations of the affluent classes have aspired to.

“The future is not what is used to be – the new sciences, digital economy, digital and creative industries have changed the shape of employment.

“Maybe just maybe some of them should give serious thought to choosing to study something different, somewhere else.”

Where that somewhere else might be is left unstated. I doubt there is much of a case to be made for encouraging able British students, and their aspirational parents,  to go to “lesser” universities in the United Kingdom although it certainly would not harm them to look at a wider range of courses.  The identikit education experience to which she refers can probably be better avoided at universities abroad.

There is plentiful evidence that studying abroad can shape the outlook of any young person and almost always for the better. However, even if independent schools, parents and students are looking for a narrow, evidence-based rationale for choosing a university abroad the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings can provide this. Although these rankings are largely inappropriate when assessing the quality of these universities’ undergraduate teaching and student support, undeniably they give an indication of overall quality and reputation.

Below we present a snapshot of those universities in the Top 50 in non-English speaking Europe that offer Bachelors degrees in English. Over the last two years, all but two of these universities have seen their overall ranking improve. Perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that more British students are going to study abroad particularly in the Netherlands.  It would seem that City firms might be able find the talent they need in the near future but they will also have to cast their net a little wider when looking for the best talent.

Rank University Country Global Rank Bachelors in English
2 Karolinska Institute Sweden 28 1
5 KU Leuven Belgium 35 4
11 University of Amsterdam Netherlands 58 5
12 University of Utrecht Netherlands 62 3
13 Delft University of Technology Netherlands 65 2
14 Leiden University Netherlands 67 6
15 Erasmus University Netherlands 71 10
17 University of Groningen Netherlands 74 25
22 University of Freiberg Germany 84 1
23 Maastricht University Netherlands 88 10
24 Lund University Sweden 90 5
26 Georg August Universitaet Goettingen Germany 99 1
38 Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands 130 6
41 Stockholm University Sweden 136 2
46 Aarhus University Denmark 149 4
47 University of Twente Netherlands 149 12
48 VU University Amsterdam Netherlands 154 3

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Ucas data harvesting – Not such a wise investment

In our last post we addressed several of the issues arising from Ucas’s expansion into international university admissions. We only briefly mentioned one of the more longstanding gripes we have with the way Ucas uses applicants’ data. The UK Information Commissioner has now ruled that Ucas broke electronic marketing rules when it passed details on up to 700,000 students to its commercial arm, Ucas Media.

According to The Guardian, the ICO ruled on Wednesday (8th April 2015) that the approach meant applicants “felt obliged to let Ucas use their information for commercial purposes, otherwise they’d potentially miss out on important information about their career or education”.

The tactic breached both the Data Protection Act, which requires personal information to be processed fairly, and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which govern electronic marketing and require consent to be given freely and for a specific purpose, the ICO said.

Ucas Media has agreed to change the sign-up on its site by 30th June 2015 that may have scared students into believing they would have missed out on information directly relating to their education choices if they hadn’t given permission to be marketed to. However, it is unlikely that all of the students currently in the system will go back to amend their settings. For international universities who are thinking about using Ucas Media to promote their offerings, they might find themselves in breach of data protection regulations in their own countries were they to do so. This could have repercussions within the European Union at the very least and it would perhaps be advisable to wait until the next applicant cycle before even considering using Ucas data for marketing purposes.

Ucas is in a highly privileged position given its central role in university applications in the United Kingdom. Misleading applicants about the uses to which their data might be put hardly tallies with their claim to have a unique insight into the desires of British students. It is good that this abuse of student data will now end.

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The pros and cons of applying to international universities through Ucas.

Firstly, I have to say that any step to make international higher education as normal and as accessible as British university options is to be applauded. Since founding A Star Future in 2006 this has been my one overriding ambition so I will take help in achieving this goal wherever I can get it.

Having said that, the idea of applying to international universities through Ucas has been around for a few years now, predating even the increase in UK tuition fees. Many of the advantages and disadvantages of facilitating applications through Ucas are well-rehearsed hypotheses; it now seems that we might get the chance to find out for real how it will work.

It is difficult to know at this stage exactly what will be a pro and a con so I have listed all of the considerations I can think of and will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

  1. Ucas reserves the right to choose which universities are the right quality. Does it have this power in the UK? While there are good reasons for assessing financial stability of Higher Education Institutions as well as credential recognition, is it really Ucas’s place to pass judgement on this? This will naturally have a limiting effect on the range of universities abroad that might be willing to submit themselves to this vetting. At this moment in time there are possibly only two public universities in Europe (except Ireland) that could sensibly be considered candidates and one of these, Maastricht University, has already ruled itself out for now. We recently published a report on the Top 50 European Universities and the opportunities that actually exist in English at Bachelor’s level. There are roughly 100 suitable degrees and almost one quarter of these are found at University of Groningen, perhaps the only likely international addition to Ucas at this time. You can download a copy of the report from the advisors area of the A Star Future website.
  2. By allowing admissions via the Ucas process international universities will dramatically increase the visibility of their Bachelor’s degrees in the UK. We try our best to make British students aware of international opportunities but our reach is somewhat limited in comparison with that of Ucas. The publicity benefits alone might make it worthwhile for international universities to include themselves. It is worth noting that Maastricht University plans to make use of Ucas’s marketing services rather than application services, utilising data harvested from UK university applicants to promote international higher education. This is nothing new, however.
  3. While presenting international opportunities alongside British ones might give applicants a better overview of the options in other countries in their subjects, it will be extremely difficult to provide meaningful comparative data about them. Key Information Sets are not a standardised component of the data international universities provide to applicants. Where they do exist, such as in the Netherlands, they cannot really provide direct comparisons with UK data particularly in areas such as graduate employability rates and student satisfaction. This is easier in the case of measures such as staff/student ratios, contact hours etc. and might be quite illuminating for British students.
  4. Applying through Ucas will make it easier for British students apply to international universities although it remains to be seen whether other country-specific application requirements would remain in place. Using Ucas might give students an overly simplified impression of the ease of studying abroad. We regularly deal with students encountering difficulties with international admission systems. While this can be frustrating and some systems appear counter-intuitive for British applicants and their advisors, it does serve as a useful introduction to the fact that things are different in other countries. If you can’t cope with the vagaries of a university’s entry processes is it really a good idea to commit to studying there for at least three years?
  5. When applying to a British university it is ordinarily essential to do so via Ucas. In other countries it will be very difficult to shut down direct applications so students could theoretically be rejected through Ucas and still have the chance to apply again for the same course at the same university. Given that many courses at universities abroad have relatively low A’ level entry requirements (even the very best universities can occasionally make offers to students students with EEE and in many countries unconditional offers are the norm) will anyone who applies through Ucas automatically be given an unconditional offer? If this becomes widespread it could have a distorting effect on UK students’ application strategies. This is becoming less of an issue as more English-taught courses employ some kind of additional selection criteria but this is not true for all courses in Europe at this time.
  6. Students are already notorious for not researching their fifth choice in Ucas. Some might be tempted to include an international choice without properly investigating the implications. We already have examples every year of students who only realise that Student Finance England support is not available to them after they have enrolled at university abroad and this is in spite of the fact that both our websites explicitly state this. Will Ucas be able to give students an accurate picture of the financial reality in a way that British students will actually take notice of? In some cases it wouldn’t surprise me if students select a course abroad without realising this is what they have done simply because they will be attracted by the headline tuition fees.
  7. Currently it is possible for students to accept offers from two universities in the UK (firm and insurance choice) and as many as they like from universities in other countries. This won’t change if students apply directly to international universities. However, if they apply through Ucas will accepting an international offer take up one of their two choices? If so, they might wish not to apply through Ucas in order to take maximum advantage of the additional choice international universities can offer.
  8. If students do use international universities primarily as an insurance offer because of the likelihood of receiving a lower offer this could generate a huge amount of acceptances but a much worse conversion rate than British universities would expect. There are further complications involved with students treating universities abroad as an insurance choice. Studies at many European universities can start as early as the first week of September leaving only two weeks between results day and the start of life abroad. If you are looking at a popular student city, this lack of preparation is likely to have serious consequences in terms of finding accommodation and settling in. We would strongly discourage speculative applications to international universities based on superficially attractive considerations such as lower tuition fees and easier entrance requirements. Making it easier for British students to apply to international universities might give those universities cause to be careful what they wish for.

At present it seems the only international higher education institution that has actually been granted permission to list its Bachelor’s degrees in Ucas is a private fashion school in Amsterdam offering a degree accredited by Bucks New University at a first year tuition fee of €15,600. While I am not in a position to judge this institution in any way, it does rather contradict the arguments laid out in most news articles that have been published recently about this development.

It is obviously necessary to reserve judgement on the success or otherwise of this development. By allowing international universities into Ucas it may be that the greater long term impact is on students from outside the UK being able to apply to British and other universities at the same time. I could certainly envisage a scenario where international universities are attracted to Ucas because it might bring them international students who were previously only considering UK destinations. British universities might not be delighted by such a development.

A final concluding thought: If Ucas is looking at ways of expanding internationally might it not be best off employing its undoubted expertise to improve other admissions systems in other countries? Studielink in the Netherlands, for one, could perhaps learn a thing or two.

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