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Higher Education: 7 top global destinations

Picking the right degree programme at the right location can often be challenging. Here’s a guide to choosing the country that is best for you

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The benefits of an international education in the age of globalisation are conspicuous

While graduate programmes have long attracted international students, undergraduates are seizing upon the vast opportunities to enrol in foreign colleges for a bachelor’s degree. 

The benefits of a thoroughly international education in the age of globalisation are conspicuous. But the game changer is that college abroad can save parents tens of thousands of dollars. In many countries, including Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, Iceland and some in continental Europe, college is either free or virtually so, with tuition less than a couple of thousand dollars. Many other universities offer a bachelor’s degree for under $7,000 (Dh25,710) a year. 

United Kingdom

Studying in Britain can be pricey, between $16,000 and $20,000 a year for humanities programmes at most of the top colleges, less for smaller names. Oxford and Cambridge charge another $6,000 to $10,000 in special college fees. Everywhere in Britain you have to tack on about $4,000 for degrees in natural sciences and even more for medical and veterinary programmes.

You can apply to up to five universities via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Lists of extracurricular activities are of little interest. Requirements usually include SAT or ACT scores, a single reference and an essay explaining your passion for a particular field.

Websites will tell you the minimum acceptable scores, and if you hit them, you are likely to get in. A knuckleball for many teenagers and this goes for much of Europe and beyond: Applicants must pick a major and stick to it. So from the get-go you have to know what you want to study. 

Continental Europe

The perk of Europe’s public universities is their price tag. In Germany, Norway, France and Austria, they are largely free to anyone from anywhere in the world. Plus, health care is often fully covered, and housing aid available.

The rationale for this generous offer to non-taxpaying foreign nationals is itself an incentive to study in Hamburg or Oslo. With its slumped demographics, Germany wants highly educated people to keep its world-class economy chugging when Germans are too few to do so themselves. The Netherlands and the Nordics want to bolster their knowledge economies with the world’s brightest, as well as attract international research funding. Foreign students also fuel local economies, whether they pay tuition or not. 


Academies Down Under are a magnet for international students, not least because their Foreign Ministry doles out plentiful scholarships. That’s critical because the average cost of an academic year is pricey — about $23,000 to $28,000 in tuition alone — though many programmes take only three years to complete.

Australian National University (ranked 22nd in the world by QS World University Rankings), the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney all are first-rate centres of research and learning. At the University of Queensland, undergraduates can study marine sciences at field stations on the Great Barrier Reef in disciplines such as physical and molecular science, engineering, ecology, nature conservation and global change science. And internationals rave about the robust campus life, beaches and cosmopolitan cities.


This island nation of 5.5 million has six national universities, all steeped in the British tradition. English is one of the city-state’s four official languages, but you can always learn a bit of Mandarin, Malay or Tamil.

The universities, like the top-flight National University of Singapore (tuition: $21,125), are as international as the city, with one in five students from abroad. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Yale and the Technical University of Munich are among private Western universities with collaborative programmes there. Another plus: travel opportunities to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.


Drawing learners from all over the world, India has emerged as hub for affordable higher education in South Asia. The third-largest education system in the world, in terms of enrolment, India is among top five countries globally in cited research output, with 23 universities in global top 200.

An EY study on the higher education sector highlights that with well-planned expansion and a student-centric, learning-driven model of education, India has not only advanced its enrolment numbers but has enhanced its learning outcomes. While engineering, medicine, finance and business courses are the top choices for most foreign students, the demand for courses in fashion, media and communication and animation is also gaining traction.  


Bachelor’s programmes in English have been sprouting like wild dandelions, most of them in business and technical fields, reflecting the Chinese economy’s keen interest in such graduates and knowledge of Chinese ways. The University of Science and Technology of China, widely considered among China’s finest, is just one example; it offers bachelor’s degrees in English in materials science and engineering and 

in environmental engineering. The country’s goal is to double its international students by 2020 to half a million.


From a degree in liberal arts at the Paris-Sorbonne University to a management programme at London Business School, courses from top global educational institutions are now available on campuses in the UAE.

With a vast range of options, students can choose mainstream courses, specialisations or vocational courses; there is something to suit the preference of every student. Dubai has 57 private higher education institutions, according to 2014 data by KHDA, with 52,586 students pursuing various courses on campuses in Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Knowledge Village. 

Abu Dhabi boasts 23 higher education institutes, offering degrees in a range of disciplines.

— With additional input from Chiranti Sengupta/GN Focus