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British university through an international student’s eyes

British university through an international student’s eyes

We know ourselves that the British university system is internationally recognised as having rigorous academic standards, incredible facilities and a cracking party scene. Nevertheless, how is the system viewed by our country’s international students?

According to Project Atlas, there were nearly 500,000 international students in the university intake of 2014/2015. They evidently make up a large proportion of the student body, and yet we seem to know so little about their experiences! Have a read and find out more…

Academic life

British universities certainly retain their academic reputation and prominence on the world rankings and so it is interesting to hear whether international students think this status is deserved.

Bridget, an international student from Monash University in Melbourne, felt that levels of attendance were stressed a lot more in the UK than in Australia, where she only had to attend 75% of her modules and after that, they took off around 1% of her grade. The idea of having meetings about attendance like in the UK seemed alien to her, although in Melbourne all her lectures were recorded so skipping them was rather easy!

Cathy, a student from France who is studying for the year at Warwick says that she was amazed by the levels of participation that are encouraged. In France, she comments that the classes are more like secondary school lessons where you simply write down whatever is said and don’t have the chance to discuss the work. In France, tutors often turn up unprepared, with no lesson plan and work is set prior to the seminars, a huge different to that here in that UK. She also said that here the system focusses a lot more on electronic resources than in France, for instance, in France books are often suggested reading rather than journal articles and apparently France is far off from using essay submission systems such as Turnitin for plagiarism.

Walter, a History student from Germany studying in Nottingham for the year, states that he was confused about the British credit system (aren’t we all…). In Germany, he says that just by turning up to classes, you gain a certain amount of credits, and if you wish to gain more, you can sit the final exam. Equally, if you want to gain more credits, you can do extra essays like in the US.

Germany sounds like the place to be if i’m honest.

Halls of residence

Halls in the UK are clearly a mixed bag depending on your price range, some with rat infestations and floods, and some with flat screen TVs and plush living areas (the dream).

Cathy said that she chose a campus university in the UK because of the focus on the hall system. In France, students are more likely to rent smaller flats in the centre of cities and so friendship groups are scattered everywhere. She really enjoyed her time in halls, stating that she found making friends a lot easier than in the French system. She said it obviously reinforced the British drinking culture because you have so much independence and are simply surrounded by students.

For Bridget, her experience of halls in Leeds was incredible, but she comments that there were international blocks of halls for those only studying for a semester which restricted them integrating as well.

Benjamin, a student over in the UK from UMBC in Maryland, says that he was  just ecstatic to know he didn’t have to share a bedroom.


All of the international students at the various universities questioned were stunned by the range and quality of the societies in the UK.

Bridget, for example, delved into Leeds Student Radio where she was able to learn new skills and interview some top bands. She was impressed with the facilities and the level of professionalism given the amount of organisation that went into the running of the societies. However, she said that whilst the boozy socials suited her, she could imagine that other international students might have been put off by constant emphasis on drinking socials.

Lorenzo, an Italian student studying at Leicester said that the number of sports on offer was such a treat in comparison to Italy. He tried rugby and ultimate-frisbee, stating that he’s never witnessed such a morale in sports clubs before. He also really enjoyed the Varsity matches between opposing universities, which he had never heard of before.

Lucy, a student from China, said that the concept of a society was alien to her because the focus of university at home is purely academic. She commented how she felt that they made students well-rounded and level-headed. Likewise, she was impressed to see there was a lively Chinese society where she could meet other international students and share her culture at event evenings.


The Brits are known for their outlandish binge-drinking, and the international students have certainly picked up on it.

Patrycja from Poland says that she wasn’t prepared for the British nightlife. She says the drum and bass nights at Antwerp Mansion, Manchester, and at Canal Mills, Leeds, were so distant from her experiences of Polish nightlife. She said that there is definitely a distinction between the different club scenes according to whether you are drinking or taking drugs. She felt that this alienated people who weren’t comfortable taking drugs and staying up until 6 in the morning, even English students. Equally, she thinks that the stereotype of British girls not dressing weather appropriately is certainly truthful!

For several Chinese students at The University of Manchester, they said they felt isolated from the binge drinking culture of the UK. They found halls a pressurised environment because if they didn’t consistently attend flat parties, they weren’t asked again. They said that in the Chinese culture, students enjoy karaoke nights and restaurants more than clubbing and so it was a real change.

Cathy from Nice in France stated that the definition of ‘drunk’ in the UK is on a next level. In France, they drink slowly and share alcohol around in parties. In the UK, all we need is a bottle of vodka of a straw to get us by.

Holly Smith Editor