Over the past few weeks, a couple of Indian students wanting to study Computer Science/Engineering at Manchester got in touch with me to ask me about what it’s like to study, live and work here. Therefore, I decided on writing a (hopefully) comprehensive, guide, to answer most of the queries these students couldn’t find answers to on the University website. I hope to cover quality of education, finances, trade-offs one faces when they get here, tips on managing living costs, employment (in light of my 6 months of experience) and, of course, the weather!
But before I begin, I must point out that my ‘advice’ should only be used as a reference point. Also, my views about the education here only apply to the School of Computer Science.
Quality of Education:
In comparison to the education back home, I definitely think Manchester outclasses several domestic universities. The courses offered here are vast, often taught by people who are really passionate about their field. There are tremendous resources available for exclusive student use, be it well stocked libraries, computer clusters, support systems or sporting facilities. With the largest student body in the UK, the diversity is pretty high too.
However, I know, as an International student, the argument is seldom about the number of Nobel Prize winners in the Faculty, or the number of books in the library. Being a student who pays more than double the amount of a British/EU student, it does boil down to one important consideration, return on investment (ROI).
If you do decide to come and study here, then you should make the most of the university’s resources! Write to Faculty academic staff to try and engage in cutting edge research, devour the knowledge contained in the libraries, network through the university’s events and make the most of what’s on offer. The international student fee is high, but you can very well get the most out of it.
There are two major costs associated with studying here, tuition fees and accommodation fees. The university allows you to pay them in instalments, which can be quite convenient. But, also keep an eye out on the exchange rate, a favourable exchange rate might just make it easier to pay the fees in a lump sum.
Once you get here, you can work upto 20 hours a week during term time and full time during holidays to contribute towards your living costs (more on this later). You can read about the Tier-4 visa University work policy here.
With so many choices for accommodation, it does become a little bit overwhelming when deciding what is the best option. The way I dealt with this dilemma was looking at it in terms of implicit and explicit costs.
Before I go on, please be aware that these costs are estimated living costs for 2016/17 academic entry.
Catered accommodation means that you get 2 meals on the weekdays and fend for yourself on the weekends and during the holidays. In terms of explicit costs, you can get catered accommodation from £93 (Twin room accommodation @ Dalton Ellis) to £175 (Ensuite @ Ashburne Hall). In terms of implicit costs, this means that you have to adhere to the timings, 7:30 – 9:30 in the morning for breakfast and 17:30 – 19:15 for dinner. Then there is the cost of eating the same breakfast every day, and dinner on a 5 week rotation. On the bright side though, your food is generally healthy.
Self-catered on the other hand means that you can cook whenever you want, eat whatever you want and socialise over cooking with your flat mates. In terms of explicit costs the range is nearly the same. In addition to that, there are the costs of purchasing your ingredients. This can be between £20-£50 depending upon your tastes. It’s not the explicit costs that make it a tough decision, but the implicit costs. By cooking your own food, you are effectively spending time purchasing your ingredients and cooking them. While it might be an enticing idea, you should take into account your other commitments which will take a larger amount of time, such as classes and part time work. Also, more often than not, in order to save time, I have seen a lot of my friends just binge eating on processed and junk food day in, day out.
The university has a good mix of both self-catered and catered options. Some of the good catered halls are Dalton Ellis, Hulme Hall and Ashburne (this is the furthest away though from the main university campus). Similarly, some of the good self-catered halls are Denmark Road, Burkhardt House and Wright Robinson.
Then there is also the dilemma of going for private accommodation. This is another feasible choice and the university has great help available on this and all the types of accommodation on their website.
For travel within Manchester, you have plenty of options. You can walk, bike, take the bus or hail a taxi.
Stagecoach is one of the bus operators here and they offer an annual bus pass for £595 which allows unlimited travel on their buses. If you are an infrequent bus traveller and don’t want to buy a pass, a ticket for bus rides along Oxford Road cost between £1 (First) – £3.70 (Stagecoach).
I personally prefer cycling or walking though. Most of Manchester’s major roads have dedicated bike lanes. Buying a bike at one of the sales organised by the Students Union is way cheaper than investing in a bus pass, plus you can use the bike throughout your time here. Again, there is another alternative here. If you are new to biking in the city and don’t want to put money into a bike right away, you can rent one for £1/week from the Student Union’s Biko Bike project. That way, you can get your feet wet (in the Manchester rain) without burning a hole in your pocket.
Intercity travel in the UK is quite affordable if you book early enough. As a student, you might want to keep a look out for the Virgin Trains Seat Sale, when you can snap up a ticket for as low as £10 or the Mega Bus, which has outrageously low ticket prices at times. Apart from that, the 16-25 rail card from the National Rail gets you 1/3rd off your ticket, making it a good investment if you intend to travel and explore the country frequently.
Money Saving Tips
I already mentioned a few of these above, however, here are some more, I might update this list if I come across more:
- Haircuts are cheaper on the Curry Mile, in Rusholme (£6 upwards)
- There are two huge grocery stores on the Curry Mile as well which sell most of the things we take for granted back home. Do check out Manchester Super Store and Worldwide.
- Aldi is cheaper compared to Tesco
- Greenhouseand Vasio Cafe are probably the healthiest and most reasonable food outlets on the university campus.
- You can get student discounts at a bunch of stores and restaurants across the UK.
- There is a Gurudwara in Cheadle-Hulme that does a communal meal (Langar) at least every Sunday and on Indian religious holidays.
This is probably the elephant in the room when it comes to us Indian students and whatever I write in the next few paragraphs is only restricted to STEM degrees.
The short and simple answer to the great employment question is, if you have the skills, you will get hired, be it in the UK, in the EU or in the States.
The longer one is, you need to take initiative and put yourself out there. After all, there is no such thing as a free dinner. One of the reasons why students don’t get the right job is because they start too late, be it at cultivating their skills or searching for positions. I would recommend to undertake work that genuinely excites you and the rest will tend to fall in place.
The UK government allows for 20hrs of paid work per week during term time and full time work during the vacations. There are several places one can work part time, including the university, for instance, you can become a Student Ambassador for the School. Again, when it comes to jobs, its imperative that the notion of any job being beneath you should be left behind. Though I’d recommend that you first seek jobs relevant to your degree and once you have exhausted your options, only then move to jobs in retail/marketing.
I used a slightly different path in my job hunt though. Since I was keen on supplementing my CS education, I thought of sending speculative emails to tech startup founders in Manchester, so I could work as a developer at their companies, a few months into my ‘formal CS education’. Perhaps it was the audacity or a tool box slightly different from the others that clicked, but I got 3 offers, out of which one led to my current job.
All in all, there is a plethora of opportunities in Manchester, if you know where to look. Also, the additional money eases several of the international student costs.
“O Mancunion Weather, thou art a wundor”
Having coming from a place where the weather is mostly sunny, the drastic weather changes in Manchester never ceases to amaze me..
There have been days when I have stepped out into bright, gleaming sunshine, only to return in a gentle snowfall. There have also been days when I have stepped into absolutely torrential rain and it has all cleared by the time I was done with classes.
Then there have been days when I have cursed my choice of studying in England, as I pedal furiously against a vile wind and rain duo hell bent on making me miserable!
Nonetheless, the variety definitely keeps it interesting!
On that bombshell, it’s time to end, I hope my rant + informative piece has made it easier for you to pick your university and has allayed some of the fears you may have about moving to Manchester or the UK. If there is something that you feel wasn’t covered, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!
Speak to you again soon,