• Tushar Rakhecha

The true cost of studying medicine in the UK

I am a year 2 Medic at the University of Bristol, and I am also an international student. I have lived in many countries around the world and whilst I have lived in England since my GCSE years, it has also had a large impact on my university life.

I was born in Kolkata, India and did my nursery school there. My family then moved to China where I started kindergarten at a local Chinese school. I learned Mandarin from scratch by conversing with my friends and having teachers willing to help me. At the end of Grade 6, I moved back to India and started living with my grandparents. My family then moved to the UK in April 2016, where I completed my GCSEs and A-Levels. When I enrolled in my new school, the academic year was about to finish, and I had only 3 weeks of Year 10 (Grade 9). I still managed to achieve the GCSE and A-level results required for Medicine. My parents moved back to India when I started university in September of 2019.

One of the biggest impacts of studying internationally is the financial burden. International student fees for most courses are usually much higher than what UK/EU students pay. For example, for the academic year 2019/2020 I had to pay £32,600. With housing in university-owned accommodation, this figure went up to roughly £40,000. This sum is quite significant and would put a dent in the finances of the vast majority of people. The funding available to international students is limited as it is, but the funding to international students studying medicine is more limited, which I find to be very curious. Moreover, even the undergraduate financial hardship fund cannot be accessed by international students as that is exclusively for UK students. While doing research for this article, I navigated to UOBs scholarships page and typed in medicine in the search bar. I was very surprised to see that only 2 scholarships were returned as results. One scholarship, the Think Big Scholarship had the following criteria for undergraduate students:

To be eligible for the University’s undergraduate scholarships, you must: be applying to any undergraduate course at the University of Bristol, with the exception of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science;

  • start your undergraduate programme in September 2021;

  • be classed as an overseas student for fee paying purposes;

  • not already be in receipt of other funding which would equate to more than the full cost of tuition fees alongside a Bristol scholarship.

This meant that out of the 2 options I potentially had, I could not avail 1 of them. The other scholarship, the Aviva Scholarship is as follows:

You can apply if you:

  • are normally resident in China, Indonesia, Singapore or Vietnam or your parent is an Aviva customer in Asia.

  • have applied to an undergraduate course, or one-year full-time Masters programme, starting in September 2020 - with the exclusion of Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science.

This lack of funding meant that my family had to pay the whole £40,000 for the first year out of their own pockets and I did not receive any help with my tuition fees. Come second year, I have started looking for a job to help manage my living expenses, otherwise it would be very hard for my family to afford it.

I also had to apply for a student visa. Despite having lived and been educated in England, I didn’t meet the criteria to switch to a student visa from inside the UK. I had to leave the country to apply. Before I started my application, I had to wait to get a CAS number from Bristol University which took around 6-8 weeks to come through. Thus, just before I was meant to start university I had to fly out of the UK, solely to apply for my student visa. This was another financial burden as I had to get multiple flights.

During my quest to secure external funding for myself I found that, even outside of Bristol, there are not many sources available for international undergraduates and still fewer for international undergraduates pursing medicine. I have seen from various online sources that comparatively; American universities and colleges have much better funding for international students.

In conclusion, my journey to university to study medicine has been long and quite taxing, specifically with the financial aspect of the whole process. If I could change something it would be, for the university to offer more inclusive scholarships so students irrespective of being UK/EU or International could achieve their potential.