Study in UK: An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Tom Birtwistle, Director (North), British Council India

Since the pre-independence era, the UK has been one of the most preferred destinations for Indian students who wish to seek a world-class education on foreign shores. From our founding fathers to some of our leading scientists and business tycoons, many eminent Indians have pursued their higher education in the UK, and thousands of Indian students continue to choose the country as their study destination every year. The UK Government, too, promotes international educational cooperation through scholarships and other such opportunities for international students. The British Council is a UK government organization with centres around the world, including in India, that seeks to promote education opportunities to study in the UK. To get an insight into study opportunities in the UK for Indian students, we conducted an interview with Mr. Tom Birtwistle, the Director (North) of British Council in India. Below are few excerpts from the exclusive interview:

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Buddy4Study: How popular is the UK as a study destination for Indian students – what are the trends in terms of numbers – and what are the courses that most students opt for?

Tom Birtwistle: Over 160,000 Indian students have studied in the UK in the last 10 years. The UK is a preferred study destination for Indian students and in the year ending June 2018, the number of visas issued to Indian students grew 32% over the previous year. The British High Commission also issued over 5,500 short-term study / student visitor visas in the same period, up 11% on the previous year, which shows a significant growth in student numbers. Popular subjects at the UG level continue to be business and engineering but there is increased interest in subjects like social sciences, law, architecture, building and planning. Popular subjects at the PG level are the same as UG, with increasing interest in social studies, biological sciences

Buddy4Study: When should a student ideally apply to a UK University, and how much time does it usually take from application to admission?

Tom Birtwistle: We have a September intake and January intake. For both and undergraduate and post graduate intake, most of the students apply during the September session itself. All students who want to study an undergraduate degree in the UK will have to apply through UCAS, which stands for University Admission College. It is a common centralised portal for all UK universities- the UCAS has more than 50,000 undergraduate courses with more than 395 providers in the UK. Through this portal, students can apply to 5 universities (maximum). Post graduate students have to apply directly to universities. There are different UCAS application deadlines – October for Oxford and Cambridge and all medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and veterinary science courses; January for all the other courses, apart from some art and design courses which have a March deadline. Some schools or colleges might have earlier deadlines so it is best for students to check directly. Depending on when the students apply to universities, the time could vary. But usually application to admission process
takes 2-3 months.

Buddy4Study: What would be the estimated annual expenses, including tuition & living expenses, for an
international student in the UK?

Tom Birtwistle: The annual estimated cost of studying in the UK is about 30,000 USD. The UK is a more affordable study destination than both the US and Australia, thanks in part to the short, diverse, flexible courses on offer which allow students to manage their time and money more effectively, and graduate a lot sooner. Other than full time and part time courses, UK universities also offer combined degrees, top-up degrees, conversion courses, sandwich courses and integrated degrees to this end. Undergraduate students can graduate in just three years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland– including in engineering and law – meaning students can start applying their study experience in the real world a whole lot sooner. Studying in the UK is good value for money – costs here are lower than in both the USA and Australia. According to research by HSBC, the average annual costs for international students were:
– $30,325 in the UK
– $35,705 in the USA
– $38,516 in Australia.

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Buddy4Study: Can a student work part-time while studying, and would the earnings suffice to aid their study or living expenses?

Tom Birtwistle: While rules may vary from university to university, students can explore work placements, volunteering opportunities, internships and university societies – and bring them all together with the help of a friendly career planning service. The visa rules allow students to undertake an internship, placement, or work up to 20 hours a week. Further, UK universities offer short, flexible and diverse courses that allow students to manage their time and money more effectively, and graduate a lot sooner. Other than full time and part time courses, UK universities also offer combined degrees, top-up degrees, conversion courses, sandwich courses and integrated degrees to this end. For example, a sandwich course is one which includes at least one period based in a placement, often in industry or commerce, away from the university. These placement(s) are the filling of the ‘sandwich’. The course includes a placement year which is ‘sandwiched’ in the middle of the degree. Sandwich courses are more common amongst business-related subjects, but can also be found in a variety of other subjects, such as engineering, computer science, maths and a handful of humanities disciplines. A UK education helps graduates stand out when entering the competitive global jobs market. According to a QS global survey, UK universities produce some of the most employable applicants in Europe and across every sector there are courses tailored towards the skills employers are looking for.

Buddy4Study: Apart from scholarship offered by various universities themselves, what are other scholarship
programs Indian students can benefit from?

Tom Birtwistle: The UK offers a host of scholarships and financial support, for aspiring students. The UK has a generous offer to Indian students with over 800 scholarships available from universities, UK government and British Council each year. Some of the British Council scholarships are:
• GREAT Education Scholarship which offers up to 67 full tuition scholarships with a value of over a GBP 1 million over a broad range of subjects for undergraduate and postgraduate levels
• Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship (CSFP) is for students who can make a significant contribution to their home country after studying in the UK.
• The A.S. Hornby Educational Trust scholarships are awarded every year to English language teachers from outside the UK to study for a Master’s degree in English Language Teaching (ELT) at the University of Warwick.
• Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarships enables Indian professionals to spend time in the UK, helping them to achieve artistic, academic and professional ambitions and to broaden their international contacts.
• 70th Anniversary Scholarships: On the occasion of its 70th anniversary in India, the British Council gave 100 women scholarships to study in the UK in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Three weeks back, on November 2nd, British Council announced a 2nd round of 70th Anniversary Scholarships, worth GBP 1 million, for another 70 Indian Women pursuing a Master’s in STEM fields in United Kingdom.
• Newton Bhabha Fund PhD Placements: PhD placements for young Indian and UK students to spend 2-4 months of their research at any UK university or Indian university.
• Chevening Scholarships: Chevening is the UK government’s global scholarship programme funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and partner organisations that offers future leaders the unique opportunity to study in the UK. These scholarships are awarded to outstanding professionals from your country and beyond to pursue a one-year master’s degree in any subject at any UK university.

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Buddy4Study: How beneficial are 1-yr master’s degrees from the UK for Indian students when the same aren’t
recognized here in India?

Tom Birtwistle: A UK education opens doors, wherever you go in the world. For graduates keen to make an impression on new employers, there’s nowhere better to develop the skills that will make you stand out as you start your career, and help you rise to your potential in the years to come. The QS global survey of graduate employers consistently shows that UK degrees are highly valued worldwide, with UK universities topping the QS employer reputation ranking. As one of the world’s top five countries for industry-university collaboration, you can also access practical work-placements designed to help you hit the ground running in the real-world. Students with one-year Master’s degrees obtained from the United Kingdom (UK) may have to complete a bridge course of six months in India to make their qualifications valid for further
academic pursuits or government jobs here.

Buddy4Study: What are the job prospects for Indian students who pursue their education in the UK?

Tom Birtwistle: Students can explore work placements, volunteering opportunities, internships and university societies. According to a QS global survey of 44,000 graduate employers, UK graduates are among the most employable in the world. Tier 4 students studying courses lasting 12 months or longer are given four months at the end of their visa to look for a job, although they can of course start looking before. Those who secure a graduate level job can apply to work in the UK for up to six years after they finish their studies.  To switch to a Tier 2 work visa, students need to secure a graduate level job paying at least £20,800 or the appropriate rate for that occupation (whichever is higher) with a licensed UK company willing to sponsor them. We have also introduced a route to allow graduates with a business idea to set up their businesses in the UK via the graduate entrepreneurship route. There are 2,000 places available each year.


  1. Source of Information: Buddy4Study app compiles details on scholarships/fellowships from government websites and private scholarship sources. Links to the official sources accompany each listing detail pages.
  2. Non-affiliation: The Buddy4Study app is not associated with any government entity in India or elsewhere. When featuring government scholarships, we rely on publicly accessible information from central and state government websites in India.

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