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Sinking British pound: Can I finally afford a UK degree?

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As the US dollars continues to strengthen against the British pounds, you must be wondering: can I finally afford a UK degree? Source: Frederck Florin/AFP

Queen Elizabeth II’s death shook the nation and many around the globe. The passing of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch brought many changes to the country, but one change will shift the tide for international students: the sinking British pound and consequently, the UK tuition fees they have to pay.

At the time of writing, the pound’s value sank to its lowest recorded level: one pound is valued at US$1.14. This comes after an announcement of a spending and tax plan by Britain’s new Conservative government. 

That’s not all. On Sept. 28, the Bank of England intervened — in a rare move — by stating its intention to buy British government bonds. “The purpose of these purchases will be to restore orderly market conditions,” the central bank said in a statement. “The purchases will be carried out on whatever scale is necessary to effect this outcome.”

With this change, you must wonder: “Are UK tuition fees lower in my currency now? Is it cheaper to study for a UK degree?” To clear your doubts, we analyse how much it cost these two Malaysian graduates (including me) to pursue their undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the UK: 

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I transferred to Queen’s University Belfast in my final year of law school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law. Source: Nathan Hew

Fall of the British pound: Can you finally afford UK tuition fees and living costs?

Nathan Hew, LLB Law at Queen’s University Belfast

I did the UK Transfer Degree Programme with Brickfields Asia College (BAC), a law school in Malaysia. In 2018, I transferred to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in Northern Ireland and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law.

Why did I choose to study at QUB? If you look at the UK, the cost of living is cheaper. On top of that, every student who transferred from BAC automatically qualified for the International Office Undergraduate Scholarship worth 2,500 pounds. As a student blogger for the university, I had a side income that helped me save on my expenses too. 

Using the exchange rate during June 2018, one pound equalled 5.31 Malaysian ringgit. On Sept. 27, 2022, the conversation rate dropped to a record low — one pound was valued at RM4.90. That is the rate I will be using when comparing the cost between the 2018-19 academic term and the price you would pay to study at QUB now.

With that, let’s break down how much I’ve spent on tuition, rent, groceries, entertainment and transport.

  • Tuition: 13,050 pounds (after a discount worth 2,500 pounds)
  • Rent: 140 pounds per week
  • Groceries: 100 pounds (I grocery shop once every two weeks)
  • Entertainment: Four pounds for a movie ticket per month
  • Transport: Zer0

Using the old exchange rate, I paid RM105,807.06 for my UK degree. With the new exchange rate, it would have cost me RM97,637.40 — a potential saving of RM8,169.66.

Remember that the currency rate constantly fluctuates (and the British pound is gradually increasing against MYR) when calculating the cost to study for your UK degree. I multiplied our monthly expenses nine times to account for one academic term.

Sofiya Shazal, MSc Global Governance and Ethics at the University College London

uk degree

University College London (UCL) is one of the top universities in the UK that is located in London — worth every penny of the UK tuition fees it charges. Source: Sofiya Shazal

For Shazal, pursuing her Global Governance and Ethics MSc at UCL was always the dream. “UCL was always a dream university of mine, and I knew I wanted to get there at some point,” she explains. Before securing an offer to study for her master’s, her undergraduate application to study at UCL was rejected.

Asked about how she was able to afford her MSc at UCL, she says: “Cost-wise, it was covered by my parents. They saw the benefits of it because of its name and reputation.”

This is how much she spent:

  • Tuition: 22,000 pounds
  • Rent: 208 pounds per week
  • Groceries: 80 pounds per week
  • Entertainment: 42 pounds per month
  • Transport: 120 pounds

When it comes to food, Shazal says that your cost will differ depending on where you are eating and whether you choose to cook.

How much would it cost her to study for the MSc today? RM165,747.40 MYR. If we followed the old exchange rate, she would have paid 179,616.06 MYR — RM13,868.66 more.