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Key facts for international students in Glasgow

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Glasgow is an edgy city, reborn from its industrial roots with a modern, metropolitan vibe. It is the third largest city in the UK, and the largest city in Scotland, making it a hub for world-renowned research and academia. Previously seen as a “gritty” city due to its development in the industrial revolution, Glasgow has evolved into a metropolis of art and culture. It is a truly multicultural city, drawing people from all over the world whether they come to work or study in Glasgow.

Overall, however, the best aspect of Glasgow is said to be its warm, witty, and welcoming people. In fact, Glasgow’s slogan is “People Make Glasgow”. Take this testimonial from Hayley Mulcrone, a U.S. citizen who graduated from Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2013:

“When you move halfway across the world, to a place you’ve never been before to study, you really don’t know what to expect. But, Glasgow really accepted me with open arms and became a place that I truly love with all my heart. If I could get a visa, I would live there forever.”

Students love Glasgow. In the 2017 QS World University Rankings, Glasgow jumped up an impressive 29 spots, due to the new measure of “Student View.” Beyond the city’s awards or statistics, it is clear that Glasgow is a city that students connect and fall in love with. According to the report, students who study in Glasgow would love to stay after graduation, just like Hayley.

How do Glaswegian universities work?

Glasgow’s universities operate under the same general structure as other universities in the UK. This structure can be slightly different from the universities you are used to.

In most cases, students apply for university having already decided what they want their degree to be in, and the university accepts them to a specific degree program. During university, having already decided their degree, there is a focus on depth rather than breadth of subjects. It is less common for students to have double majors or minors, or take classes outside their degree subject.

Most undergraduate degrees are three years long, with different weighting per year, with first year counting the least toward the final degree. This results in many first years, or “freshers,” spending more time going out than studying. Many degrees offer students the option to apply for a third year either abroad or on work placement, meaning they come back to complete university as a fourth year.

In the UK, Masters programs are generally one year long, and PhD's are between three and four years long. PhD's are funded through the universities but Masters programs are either self-funded or funded through scholarships, which will differ between universities.

The teaching and studying culture

Universities in Glasgow are very assessment based, and each module may only have one or two assessments. Assessments will depend on the subject, but may be tests, essays, or presentations. This means that there is a heavy weighting for each assessment, therefore students will spend a lot of time and work on each individual assessment. There is not a big “coffee shop studying” culture in Glasgow, and the majority of students will study in either the university library or student union. Most modules will not offer any credit or points for participation or attendance, and international students may be surprised to find that sometimes students in Glasgow will skip class…to study! Modules will also often offer both “formative” (not graded) and “summative” (graded) assessments. Students usually enroll in three or four modules per semester, depending on their subject.

Relationships with teachers (called “lecturers”) are very variable so will depend on your specific university, degree program, or the teacher themselves. Generally, it is best to air on the side of politeness, and refer to the lecturer as either “Mr./Ms.” or “Professor” unless they say to call them by their first name. Module sessions are often divided into lectures (presentations delivered to a hall of often hundreds of students) and seminars (more interactive classes of 10-20 students), and lecturers may offer “office hours” when students can go speak to them one on one.

Marking system

The marking (grading) system in Glasgow, and in the UK in general, may differ to many countries, which may shock international students when they get their first results! 70% is considered excellent, 60-69% is considered very good, 50-59% is considered good, 40-49% is considered satisfactory, and below 40% is a fail.

University of Glasgow, however, operates on a 22-point letter-based grading system, and more details on it can be found here.

International students may also find that the culture around grades is different, with students willingly open and sharing grades with each other.

Teaching language

You can expect to be taught in English in Glasgow. However, you may have to adjust to the strong Scottish accents! A particular dialect, known as either Glasgow Patter or Glaswegian, is spoken around Glasgow. The strong accents often prove challenging for non-Scots, and adjusting to the dialect may take some time.

To study in Glasgow, you should have passed a secure English language test (SELT) if English is not your first language.

Glasgow’s main universities

There are many universities to choose from to study in Glasgow. Here is some information on four of them…

University of Glasgow

University of Glasgow was founded in 1451, making it one of the world’s oldest universities! It is in the top 1% of world Universities, and 63rd in the world according to QS University Rankings. It is located centrally within the city, near the popular West End. With a student population of 24,000 including 7,844 international students, it is a proud host of international students, being rated third in the UK for international student satisfaction. Along with its long history, the University of Glasgow has had seven Nobel Laureates, including most recently Professor Robert Edwards (2010) who created the world’s first IVF clinic. Other famous alumni include Adam Smith and Scotland’s current prime minister Nicola Sturgeon. The University is especially renowned for its research opportunities and funding, and is particularly well known for its veterinary program. It is unusual among UK universities as it has a flexible degree program, meaning students do not have to decide their degree before starting university. Along with accepting international students, the university has multiple long-established exchange programs, an international summer school, and scholarship opportunities. More information can be found on the university's website.

University of Strathclyde

University of Strathclyde is Glasgow’s other university in the top 300 of the QS University Rankings, placed at 272nd. It is a technological university located in the center of Glasgow, which specifically focuses on practical learning and teaching, and hosts an award-winning Careers service which is particularly useful for students who wish to go on a work placement year. Notable degree programs at the University of Strathclyde include business, hospitality, law, biomedical sciences, and one of the UK’s largest engineering faculties. 24% of the total student population is international students, from over 100 countries.

University of Strathclyde not only accepts international students and study abroad students, but also has English language courses which can either be taken during the degree or pre-degree for international students who need to improve their skills to meet the English language requirements. The university's website provides more information for international students. There are also many scholarship opportunities at the University of Strathclyde, including many for international students specific to their country of origin. The University has a comprehensive scholarship searching system.

Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is not ranked as one of the QS top universities, but nevertheless it is a respected university in Glasgow. The university has 20,000 students from over 100 countries. GCU has a specific mission to promote the common good, relevant as the current university chancellor is Professor Mohammed Yunus, acclaimed Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-poverty activist. The GCU campus is eco-friendly and located in the center of Glasgow, with sister universities in both London and New York City. GCU offers scholarships for both EU and international students from outside the EU, including a guaranteed 1,000 GBP scholarship for all self-funded, full-time taught programs.

GCU also offers an international summer school, including a wide variety of courses including marketing for fashion, public health, computing and more.

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) is an arts-specific university, ranked by QS Top Universities as third in the world for performing arts. The RCS has a very multicultural student-base, with around 20% international students. RCS views internationalization as a core aspect of the university, and as such they are part of the Erasmus exchange and offer many scholarships, of which more information can be found here.

Studying at RCS is a very intense experience, with most of the students’ time devoted to rehearsals and class. Class sizes are small and unlike traditional universities, there are no large lecture halls or typical assessments. Students must also audition for the RCS, for more information on international auditions, look here.

Exchange programs and scholarships

Different universities offer different exchange programs and scholarships, so you should look at the university’s international student page.

If you are looking to come for a short course or one year instead of the entire degree, a common exchange program is Erasmus. You can find more information on Erasmus through your university or the Erasmus website.

There are some Scotland-specific scholarships for international students, including the Saltire Scholarships, more information here. The British Council is also a good resource to see scholarships offered by different universities.

Student living in Glasgow

In terms of accommodation, students can opt to live either in halls or privately rented accommodation. Living with flat-mates or housemates can be an amazing way to meet people, make friends, and practice your English skills!

“Halls” refers to University-owned flats, where flat-mates are assigned based on a personal interest form. Halls are variable, but they usually include a private bedroom, but shared bathroom, kitchen, and living area with other students. They can be either catered or self-catered. Halls often include a cleaner, and students do not pay any bills. This means that halls are usually more expensive than privately rented accommodation, but it is often seen as a “rite of passage” to live in halls, particularly in the first year of University. In Glasgow, some universities, such as the RCS, have halls that mix students of multiple universities together!

Students wanting to live in privately rented accommodation should consult their University for a university approved landlord list. Other good resources are: Right Move, Unite Students, City Lets, and StuRents. Living in privately rented accommodation requires more independence than halls, as students are responsible for paying bills, cleaning, and sometimes buying furniture. It is possible to rent with bills included, which can make the process easier. Students in the UK are also exempt from council tax.

In Glasgow, there are certain areas where students tend to live. The two main neighborhoods are the West End and Garnethill, depending on which university you attend. For a more detailed description of Glasgow neighborhoods, check here.

Cost of living

Tuition

Compared to other European countries, it can be very expensive to study in the UK. In Glasgow, the average university fee for international students is $20,800 (USD), according to QS World Rankings. International students generally pay higher tuition than UK citizens by a few thousand GBP. However, it is notably cheaper for EU citizens. For example, a student coming from Greece would pay £1,820 per year, and this could be refunded if certain conditions are met.

Food

If you live in self-catered halls or privately rented accommodation, you will be expected to cook for yourself. There are many grocery stores in the UK, but the most budget friendly stores are Aldi, Asda, Morrison’s, and Tesco. Other grocery stores include the Cooperative Food, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose, although these stores are more expensive. Most stores offer home delivery for a surcharge. Students can get an NUS Extra card from their University which offers many discounts, including at grocery stores.

Transportation

The UK has great public transportation, but it can get pricey. Train travel is the best way to travel around the UK, and with a 16-25 railcard, fares are 1/3 off. Even if you are older than 25, but still a student, you are eligible for the railcard. Students should look into purchasing a 16-25 railcard.

Glasgow has its own public transportation system, called SPT, which includes a subway system and a bus system. More information including prices can be found on the SPT website.

Within the UK, you can also use National Express or Megabus for reasonably priced bus journeys, which also offer student discounts.

Entry conditions

Prospective students from Switzerland or EEA countries currently do not need a visa to study in the UK. If they meet the university’s basic requirements, such as A-level equivalents and a satisfactory English language level, then they will be permitted to study in the UK.

All prospective students from outside Switzerland or EEA countries need a visa to study in the UK. Getting a visa can be an expensive and lengthy process. Students should allocate at least a few months for the process, although it can be expedited in certain countries by paying a higher fee. Visas can be applied for three months in advance of the course’s start date, but the paperwork should be prepared in advance of that time frame.

The most common student visa is theTier 4. The Tier 4application requires an unconditional offer from the university, a confirmation of acceptance of studies (CAS) letter, a criminal background check from the student’s home country, biometric information, and proof of existing savings, the amount of which is dependent on the length of study. If the course is classified as a “short course” ie. a language course or short period of research, then the prospective student may be eligible for the Short Course Visa, which is less expensive.

Student visas range from £93 to £335, not including an extra healthcare surcharge which includes access to the UK’s National Healthcare System. Student visas often allow students to work for up to 20 hours a week during term time.

All specifics should be checked on the UK visa and immigration (UKVI) website. UK immigration processes are subject to short-notice change, particularly with the recent referendum to exit the EU. It is therefore important to check current requirements on the UKVI Compliance website as well as recently updated visa processing times.

Nice places to visit

In Glasgow you can find anything from punk rock music at Nice ‘N Sleazy’s to Charles Rene Mackintosh’s Art Deco influence on buildings in the West End. It is a city often described as “rough around the edges” and maybe rather than in spite of, but because of this, it is teeming with culture, art, and creative energy.

Whilst in Glasgow, you should make sure to check out the Glasgow Cathedral, Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, City Chambers, Glasgow Science Centre, or see a play at the Tron in Glasgow’s cultural quarter, Merchant City.

Glasgow is also only an hour’s train journey from Edinburgh. The 'Visit Scotland' site has many recommendations for easy day trips from Glasgow.

Student night life

In Glasgow, students often spend nights out bar hopping or dancing at clubs. The drinking culture in the UK is more intense than other European cities, so you should be careful and not necessarily try to keep up with your UK counterparts!

Popular student hang outs include bar hopping down Bath street. Mixology is a big deal in Glasgow, and most bars are proud of their incredible mixologists. Some students' favorite bars include Flat 0/1, Hummingbird, Slouch Bar, and Moskito. To go out dancing or clubbing, students love Garage, ABC and Polo Lounge, all clubs in Merchant City.

Universities also host student union nights which will vary between universities but are usually very popular.

A final tip…

And because who doesn’t love food, before leaving Glasgow, you need to try the local Glaswegian delicacies! Order a Haggis, neeps and tatties as your main. Haggis is like an oaty minced meat (Haggis is not an actual animal, although don’t be surprised if a Scot tells you a tale about the mythical Haggis!). Neeps are mashed turnips and tatties are mashed potatoes. For dessert, you need to try a fried mars bar!

Content written by Sarah Bence

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