Expat Parents: Your Complete Guide to Understanding University Tuition

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International Students Face Spiralling Tuition Fees

Students have borne the brunt of rising tuition fees in recent years, none more so than international students. Students attempting to enrol in top universities in the UK, US and Australia are facing the prospect of large upfront fees and high living costs. Increasingly families are planning financially to meet the high barrier to entry that many Western universities have erected.

Unlike ‘home’ students, international students are often unable to take out student loans to pay for enrolment into higher education. Whereas home students are able to take out a tuition fee loan and maintenance loan, international students are expected to pay upfront.

“The cost to families of sending children abroad to study at university has risen precipitously in recent years. When accounting for living expenses, the cost can be as much as £40,000 per academic year for a full-time student.”

Claire Walker, Senior Wealth Manager at deVere Group

Tuition Fee Inflation

Fees for international students are typically three times higher than the price domestic students pay. Adding to the difficulty is the fact fees are rising by around 7 per cent every year, outstripping interest rates.”

A 2018 HSBC study found that the average international student will spend $99,000 over the course of their degree when studying in the US. Since that time already steep prices have soared to chase inflation on a level said to be unseen since the 2008 financial crisis.

A cost breakdown by the International Education Specialists sets out some of the many costs associated with studying in the US. These include health insurance bills of between $700 and $1000 a year, living costs of around $450 a month and other one-off costs like the cost of a student visa.

In the decade intervening between 2008 and 2018, the price of tuition for international students studying in the US shot up by over 40%. Despite the hike in fees, enrolment by international students has remained strong, spiking after a slight Covid slump. As Forbes reports:

“International student enrolment at American colleges and universities is showing signs of a strong recovery from the steep decreases experienced in the past two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to a just-released “Open Doors” survey from the Institute for International Education, the total number of international students in the U.S. was up nearly 4% in 2021–22. That increase has been reinforced with an additional 9% gain in the current fall semester.”

The boost in figures took the number of international students enrolled in US universities close to the one million mark. They stand as a testament to the continued high quality of American education, and that enrolments are increasing in spite of rising prices is evidence that many feel an investment in their child’s education will pay dividends.

International Student Fees in The UK

The Times Higher Education World University rankings place England’s Oxford university at the top of the table. But to attend a UK university international students will be charged between £28,950 and £44,240 per year. A 3-year degree could cost over £130,000 before taking living costs into account, with Oxford warning that “Fees and charges will usually increase annually.”

Number 2 on the Time’s list is Harvard university in the US. The standard tuition fee for international students is $51,000 per academic year. Australia’s University of Melbourne places 34th in the world on the table of top universities and charges foreign students between $15,000 and $25,000 AUD per semester.

Home students who study in the UK have their fees capped at £9250 for the next two years. What’s more the fees can be paid off with loans from the student finance company. The limit means that many British universities are having to find the shortfall in income elsewhere, and are considering raising fees for international students even further.

Despite the high prices, British universities continue to enrol more international students year on year, and those students report positive outcomes. A 2019 study on graduate outcomes carried out by iGraduate found that:

“International graduates from UK universities go on to successful and satisfying careers, and that the majority of them recognise that their UK degree is a vehicle for their success. The results also show just how valuable our international graduates are as ambassadors for the UK.”

Key findings of the study included 69% of respondents saying they progress more quickly in their career than peers educated elsewhere, 82% of graduates that their degree was worth the investment and 83% of agreeing their degree helped them get their job. The clear benefits of a British education saw 679,970 international students pursue their studies in the UK last year, a 12.5% rise from the previous year.

Increasingly, parents who are looking to send their children abroad for their studies are thinking about education planning services. With limited scholarship options available to international students, setting up a strong financial plan could be crucial to securing a place at the university of your children’s choice. 

The year-on-year increases in international students enrolling in Western higher education institutions is a vote of confidence in their value. Many families accept that top-tier education can often demand top-dollar prices. But with the right financial support and investment strategy securing your child a place at university doesn’t have to break the bank.


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