Choosing between UK and Australia

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UK Universities vs Australian Universities? This wasn’t a very hard question for me. I made up my mind two years ago when I was choosing between scholarship offers from Petronas and KPM Bursary. I chose the UK, because I have been dreaming of studying in the UK since young. Plus, UK universities are more prestigious and reputable in my opinion, and I wish to be one of their students! So, I applied to 5 UK universities for Chemical Engineering last year for the Sept/Oct 2014 intake.

Of course, other than those mentioned above, there are other factors that you have to look into if you are not very sure if you want to go to the UK or Australia! Let’s see!

Criteria and Comparisons

Here are some factors that I considered when making my decision.

  • Application Process

UK universities use an online application system called UCAS. You can apply to up to 4 universities for Medicine/Dentistry, OR 5 choices for other courses. A personal statement is needed. The fee is GBP23.

Australian universities’ applications are paper-based for applicants doing qualifications such as A Levels and IB (students doing SAM or Ausmat use an online application system instead, if I am not mistaken). We have to apply through our college’s Placement Centre by getting the university application forms from them. In other cases, students apply through placement agents such as IDP. Just fill up the simple paper application form and submit it alongside certified true copies of your results (AS, A2, forecast, IB etc.). No personal statement is needed. You have to apply to each university separately and each costs about AUD 100 (application fee varies according to university). However you most likely can get the application fee waived if your results meet the universities’ requirement for application fee waiver. You can apply to as many universities as you like.

So, in comparison, applying to Australian universities is easier than applying to the UK. But as I made up my mind to go to the UK, this didn’t influence my decision much.

  • Interview

UK: Interviews (either face-to-face or virtual through Skype) are involved in the application process for the following courses:

  • All Oxbridge courses
  • Certain courses in Imperial (e.g. Chemical Engineering and Electrical & Electronics Engineering)
  • Medicine (with exception to University of Edinburgh)
  • Dentistry

Australia: Interviews are needed for applicants to Medicine and Dentistry courses only.

It would have been much easier for me to apply for Chemical Engineering to Australian universities. However, this did not influence my decision very much as I was not intimidated by the interview.

  • Admissions Tests

UK: Admissions test are required for application to certain courses (such as Oxbridge courses, Medicine, Dentistry, Law and Mathematics): BMAT, UKCAT, LNAT, CLT, TSA, PAT, STEP, etc. (Challenge: Google to find what they are :P)

Australia: No admissions test is required for courses other than Medicine and Dentistry. For these courses, the test is called International Student Admission Test (ISAT).

So, no admissions test is required for ChemEng application to UK universities (with exception to Oxbridge) and Australian universities. Fair enough! To be on the safe side, remember to check the universities’ websites to see if an admissions test is required.

  • English Language Tests

All UK universities accept IELTS for sure, but some also accept SPM English and English 1119/O-Level English. TOEFL is not encouraged as it has been banned by UK Border Agency for UK Visa application purposes.

Australian universities accept IELTS for sure and most accept TOEFL as well.

However, please check with your university for the exact list of English Language Tests they accept, and the minimum scores they want. To be on the safe side, just take the IELTS.

  • Courses’ Minimum Entry Requirements

Top UK universities have higher entry requirements compared to top Australian universities. Taking A Levels as an example, the minimum entry requirements for the following courses are:

Course UK Australia
Chemical Engineering Imperial College London

A* A* A

University of Queensland

B B C

Economics London School of Economics

A* A A

University of Melbourne

A B C

To know the minimum entry requirements, do check the university’s website. If you afraid that you are unable to achieve the high UK universities entry requirements, then why not apply to Australia? I love challenges, so I went for the UK!

  • Difficulty in Getting an Offer

For UK, it’s not guaranteed that you will get an offer even if you achieved the minimum entry requirements, because there are other factors such as your personal statement, admission tests, interviews performance (if applicable) and also the stiff competition from other equally well-qualified applicants!

For Australia, most applicants that meet the minimum entry requirements can get an offer, unless places for the courses are full (with exception to Medicine and Dentistry courses, which are competitive and admissions depends performances on admissions test and interview as well).

  • Rankings

Although many have said that rankings can’t be used to decide which university to attend, rankings are nevertheless the only official statistic that compares how good universities in the world are. This matters most if you are a sponsored student and your sponsor limits your choices to only certain top universities, according to those rankings. The most-used ranking by sponsors is the Times Higher Education University Rankings. However, QS Rankings can also provide you some useful insights.

(THE World University Rankings & QS University Rankings)

UK universities are generally ranked higher than Australian universities (of course, there are some exceptions in certain rankings). Feel free to Google and check out those rankings.

Imperial College London is ranked higher than any of the Australian universities for Engineering, and thus, I opted for Imperial College London (UK).

  • Reputation

On reputation, just ask yourself this: Which universities would you choose if given the following choices?

  • Oxford or Monash for Medicine?
  • Imperial or Queensland for Mechanical Engineering?
  • Cambridge or University of New South Wales (UNSW) for Law?
  • LSE or Melbourne for Economics?
  • UCL or Sydney for Psychology?

If you have chosen UK universities, that’s partly because these UK universities’ reputations are at work. And I chose Imperial (UK) which has a better reputation for ChemEng, for better career opportunities in the future. This is strictly the author’s opinion.

  • Academic Excellence, Education System and Quality

Both UK and Australian education are recognized as among the best and most innovative in the world, so it’s really up to your preferences. And I chose UK.

  • Costs (Tuition Fee and Living Fee)

Many sources have suggested that studying in Australia is more expensive than in the UK, but if you are a sponsored student you may not have to worry too much. However, it still hurts if the living fee is too high because the living allowances given by the sponsor will not be enough then.

And for this, I voted for UK!

(Average annual cost of studying abroad for international students, HSBC)

  • Living, Culture and People

Both UK and Australia are considered as good and safe countries to live in.Their cultures are diverse and food is plenty. They are full of interesting activities all-year-round and have many international students. Do your own readings on the internet and see which country you would like to live in! I opted for UK here!

  • Travel

If you are studying in the UK, you can travel within UK, or around Europe easily with efficient transport systems such as rail.

If you’re studying in the Australia, you can travel within Australia. I guess Australia is large enough to explore? And Australia has Kangaroos and Koalas!!

In this respect, I prefer Europe so I chose UK!

Conclusion/Advice

There are several pros and cons of applying to and studying in UK and Australian universities with regards to the 12 criteria above. I would say applying to Australian universities is generally easier than UK universities (except Medicine and Dentistry Courses which are equally competitive in the UK and Australia).

So follow your preferences and ability according to the 12 criteria above to make the best choice! And I’m glad that I’ve chosen UK. What about you?

Difficulties in making the decision

Generally I did not face any difficulty during my decision process. My parents are fine with me attending any UK or Australian university but not a university in United States (because they are worried that I might die in a gun shooting incident lol). I don’t have to worry about the costs as I am a sponsored student. Most importantly, it was because I had figured out what I really wanted, so I could make the decision easily.

Game Plan and Back-Up

Initially, I thought of applying to as many universities as possible, including UK, US, Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysian universities.

However, less than 2 months after I sent my UCAS application, the University of Manchester made me a conditional offer with achievable grades. Although Manchester isn’t my first-choice university, studying in the UK is my priority. So, I decided not to apply to Australian, HK and Malaysian universities since I already had an offer from a UK university (Manchester) as back-up. After that, I received offers from the University of Birmingham and University College London as well before finally getting an offer from Imperial College London.

To enhance my admissions chances, I did my best to write a good personal statement, achieve good results and prepare for the interview. To learn more about this, do read another article written by me. 😀

Right University?

I can proudly say that I have chosen the right university! Imperial College London FTW! No regrets!!


Kian Woon copy

Chen Kian Woon is a high achiever who will be pursuing his Chemical Engineering degree at Imperial College London, UK under the Public Service Department(JPA) Scholarship. He loves travelling and now he can’t wait to travel around the beautiful Europe in the next 4 years!  One of the most insane things he did in life was not taking the Petronas Scholarship offer to study in Australia, and hence, he is writing this article for you guys today!

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