Lassie Liberty: Current International Student Controversies

Lassie Liberty: Current International Student Controversies

Recently, I’ve been looking through Twitter comments—my first mistake—in regards to the controversial issue of visas for international student coming to America when their courses are all online. There are many voices who support this while making claims about what it means to earn a degree in another country. But many prove they’ve never earned a degree in another country or even considered it.

I’m not arguing you have to, but when you can’t put yourself in the place of an international student, you miss the small pieces surrounding the argument.

I can come at these issues with a similar mind frame: I’m an American who has studied abroad in another country. Further, I’m meant to be doing that again this year. So I have some insights into the concerns many international students are facing, and I wanted to address them here.

Finances and Costs of Earning Degrees Abroad

In most cases, if someone is going to a different country to earn a degree, they’re going to be paying more. This is just a fact, and it’s in place for a number of reasons, which I’ll get to in a moment.

For example, in Scotland, Scottish students don’t pay for their degrees or their cost is lower. The same is true for UK citizens, and was true for EU students. However, for international students, we pay full-price. This price difference can be big. A home or EU student can earn a Master’s Degree from a Scottish University at £8,850 (approx: $11,483), while an international student’s fee for the same degree might be £21,920 (approx: $28,442).

The above is a big difference! So big, it might make you wonder why people would choose to earn a degree in another country.

Well, there are several reasons, but let me first address some reasons why there’s a big cost difference.

The Full Price

The biggest reason why an international student will pay more for a degree is simply due to taxes. In Scotland, a portion of taxes paid goes towards higher education. Thus, most students will pay a reduced rate or even not pay at all. This encourages more students to attend university.

For several years, this equally applied to EU students as well, but in 2021, that will change due to Brexit.

Without these contributions through taxes, Scottish and British students would likely be paying similar rates to international students.

NHS and Visa Sponsorship

However, an additional cost factored into the price of an international education in Scotland is contribution to the National Health Service (NHS). This means that when you are studying abroad, you will be able to go to the doctor and dentist should you need to. International students coming the US are likely paying more to account for something similar.

Further, international students do take longer to process and the school is expected to sponsor that visa. Remember: the university is essentially your full-time employer. They’re providing you an education, but also sponsor that visa. That’s expensive!

There can be other reasons why fees are so high, but do remember that higher education is an investment. While I do have issues with the some costs of universities, I will admit that a university costs a decent amount to upkeep. The salaries of workers and educators; the systems and journals you gain access to; the campus services you use. These are just a handful of things that come with the cost of a degree. Being an International student—not having contributed to the taxes while also requiring extra work to bring you abroad—is further expense added to the university.


I’ve said this before and I’ll likely say it again: I believe it was more affordable and a better investment for me to earn a Master’s Degree abroad in a different country than it would’ve been for me to earn a degree within the United States as an American.

My own example: In 2012, I believe my degree fees were a bit less than the example above. I believe my degree was closer to £15,250 (approx: $19,787)*. I got university-offered accommodation; looking up the most recent estimates near where I stayed, the price is £100.92 per week. At 50 weeks from September to August, that’s £5,046 (approx: $6603). So just in considering my degree and my accommodation, the cost was about $26,390. This number does not show my costs for food or the occasional trips I took, but it’s meant to show the fees I needed to pay in order to attend.

But did I mention that I earned that Master’s Degree in just one year? Most Master’s programmes in the US take at least 2 years to earn, and can cost more than that per year.

Further, earning the degree in Scotland added something unique to my resume and helped me stand out more, so I felt it was a good investment.

That being said, let me get back to why one might decide to earn a degree in another country if it’s more expensive for them versus domestic students.

Studying Abroad Isn’t Just About Just Earning a Degree

This is a big thing I see being left out of the conversation about international students—be they coming to America or Americans going abroad. Most people who choose to study in another country are not just going for a degree. They’re going for an experience. Because that is exactly what you get when you go to live in another country for any period of time. This is the biggest thing that travel does for us.

It’s no different for students. In fact, it’s probably greater for students. A year or more in another country is going to change the way one sees things and experiences the world.

Students are not just students. They’re people outside the classroom too. They equally need to factor in off-time; time for errands; time for fun. I see so many people saying it should just be about the education. And while the main focus definitely should be the education, that’s not all it is or will be. There needs to be breaks for enjoying life; spending time with friends; exploring and experiencing a new place they’re living in.

If one doesn’t take time to factor those into place—whether a full-time worker or student—burnout happens. It’s real and it can make you lose touch with everything you’re dedicated to. We all need breaks, and you need to experience wherever you’re living and studying. It’s an important part of earning a degree abroad.

This is the investment made. One pays a bit extra, and in addition to getting a degree, they equally get to broaden their mind by experiencing what can be a whole new world.

The Current Conflict with International Students

Now, in considering some of what I’ve said above, there’s a big discussion right now on why international students should travel to a different country if their classes are online. This is actually an issue affecting me right now. However, it’s from the perspective of someone wanting to leave the US to study in a different country.

Either way, I am very much connected to this discussion and very closely following comments of others regarding it. And I’m so frustrated seeing many who don’t seem to understand the different issues surrounding it. So let me address some of the bigger arguments I’ve seen people have against international students traveling to their desired country for education.

Costs and Internet

I’m combining these two issues as a lot of arguments have looped them together. Many talk about the high costs international students pay, and insist that they should be able to pay for better internet in their home country rather than move to America.

But this raises two big issues:

That Full-Time Education Cost

As noted above, some of the extra costs that international students pay go directly to the fees needed to process an international student. We’re talking visa fees; processing fees; costs for insuring the student medically; extra contributions due to not paying taxes within the country.

If the student isn’t going to be coming to the country for the education, why should they be expected to pay full price?

And if they don’t pay full price, that loss of income could potentially fall back onto the shoulders of domestic students if schools need the income.

Internet Accessibility

The issue many students might have with internet isn’t simply due to “slow internet”; it can also be due to limitations in access.

A small example: have you ever been on YouTube and seen a notice that reads “this video is not accessible in your country”?

Think about that, but multiply it to a full online learning course. There are some countries that significantly limit citizens’ access to various websites. If your online course is one of them and you’re still stuck in a country that limits website access, you might be unable to complete your courses.

That’s where the “pay for better internet” argument falls flat. For many, it’s not just about internet speed. And often times, issues like that cannot be sorted with extra payments.

Live Online Lecturing

There’s also the issue that online courses vary on how they will deliver content. Some might have prerecorded videos that students can access at any time. But others might ask students to attend live online lecturing.

If you’re a student who lives on the opposite end of the world and need to attend a live lecture, that will cause issues. How would one factor in daily tasks? When does one get groceries if they’re logged in for lectures during open store hours? What if one needs access to a campus system, like the library?

A student’s education will suffer if they are not permitted to move to the country and area their school is located. It’s about more than just the degree, but all the services the campus offers and being able to do it on a schedule that matches the timezone of your school.

Still Living Life as a Student

Let’s not forget one more thing that I mentioned above. Again, this is what everyone ignores when it comes to international students.

International students are going to another country, not just for a degree, but for an experience. If it wasn’t for that, very few people would study abroad. Students are equally meant to visit new places, try new food, meet new people.

And, yes, I recognize all of the above isn’t as easy in a post-COVID-19 world, but those are simply examples of what the study abroad experience is about. The issue is that many seem to think students literally just “go to class and study” and nothing else.

To use an analogy: when you have a full-time job, you work your 40-hour work week, and you have time off.

So, too, do students. It is not and cannot just be “go to class and study”. That leads to stress and burnout. Students are still people who need to make time for enjoying themselves, life, and the world beyond just the classroom.

That is a big thing they will miss out on if they are not able to move to the location of their intended school.

You might say this doesn’t matter, but let me remind you, this is equally an empathy issue, just as much as a logic one. Many people making these arguments seem to forget that students are not doing classwork 24/7. When they come to the US, they’re coming for the experience of living in another country. They’re coming to the US to experience the country outside of their classwork, too.


There is a lot here, I know. But I had so many things I needed to write out because I’ve been frustrated by opinions that don’t seem to see both sides of the issue. I agree that we all must find new normals after COVID-19, but we don’t do the world any good when we’re ready to sacrifice anyone moving to a new country. And in not considering all sides and aspects international students face, it keeps us close-minded. Societies do not grow or flourish with those walls in place.

I have not addressed my own concerns here in regards to my ability to travel abroad for a degree, but perhaps I will in another entry.

*Why are there two different estimates for International student degrees? Simply because different degrees cost different things. A degree in a science field might cost more than one in a literature field, simply because there might be more requirements for teaching (more equipment; additional access to study materials; etc). Further, please note that each year, the fee may change.


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