A town or city in the Midlands region of England is probably not the first choice that springs to mind when international students consider studying in the UK. Many gravitate towards the world-renowned capital city of London, or the popular south coast. However, visitors who do choose the central region are in for a huge treat, as they will really get to know the cultural nuances of the area and indeed the UK without being surrounded by a crowd of other overseas students. Often with the tranquil English countryside providing a backdrop too!
There are also a number of big, exciting cities in this area, including Birmingham which is the second largest city in the UK. A real melting pot of cultures, it boasts a modern shopping centre called The Bullring with all the major high street names, as well as a wide variety of restaurants, bars, clubs, museums, art galleries and music venues. The city of Nottingham, north of Birmingham, offers a similar variety of activities and also has a spirited student population.
“Nottingham is steeped in history, having been the hometown of the legendary Robin Hood and the site of the outbreak of the English Civil War,” says Leo Cutting from the University of Nottingham. “Nottinghamshire was also the birthplace of several famous individuals, including the writer DH Lawrence, an alumnus of the university, and fashion designer Paul Smith.” Listing a number of interesting places to visit in the surrounding area, including Nottingham Castle and the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery, he explains that areas of natural beauty include Sherwood Forest and Attenborough Nature Reserve. “From breakdancing to bell ringing, the University of Nottingham offers a broad range of activities to cater for all sorts of interests,” he adds.
Diana Knight from ILS English, meanwhile, highlights that the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem potentially the UK’s oldest pub dating back to 1189AD is also located in Nottingham. It is rumoured that knights from the 12th century Crusades to the Holy Land stopped off at this watering hole, and that King Richard I himself also frequented it. Knight also suggests that students visit the Nottingham Galleries of Justice, “a building that was the villainous Sherriff of Nottingham’s base where you can discover Nottingham’s horrible history”, she says. “This themed experience is set in the old Courthouse and County Goal, which has a vast collection of spine-chilling artefacts relating to crime and punishment over the centuries. There is also a free Robin Hood exhibition where you can learn all about Nottingham’s most famous outlaw.”
Around 24 kilometres to the west of Nottingham is Derby a smaller city that was voted the second safest in the UK by international students in the i-graduate International Student Barometer, according to Lynsey Bowen at the University of Derby. Also a dynamic city, the Rolls Royce headquarters is located here, it has the highest average salary in the UK outside London. While recommending Buxton Opera House, Derby Theatre and Chatsworth House and Gardens, Bowen also suggests that students should visit the Peak District a gorgeous landscape of hills and valleys, gorges and lakes mostly occupying Derbyshire and stretching up to Yorkshire.
Oxford, one of the world’s most famous university towns, is another highlight of the Midlands. The traditional buildings and cobbled lanes hold a strong history, while Jericho in the northwest is the trendy, artsy end of town with many bars and restaurants as well as an art-house cinema. But for international students who would prefer a less commonly-known destination offering an equally rich cultural experience, Worcester might be the city for them.
“Overseas students choose Worcester because they want to escape the overcrowded traditional EFL destinations where foreign language students seem to outnumber the local population,” enthuses Sue Johns from Kingsway English Centre. “Visitors feel like they are visiting authentic England, and passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport [around 51km northeast of Worcester] can get through passport control in a fraction of the time that it takes at London airports.” Explaining that the combined public/university library (Europe’s first ever) is an eye-catching modern building, she says that the city is also historically important as the site of the last battle of the Civil War. Meanwhile, Rick Johns, also at Kingsway, relates that the school has a session at the local Mug House pub, “A traditional English pub next to Claines Church on the edge of Worcester, where we introduce students to pork scratchings, pork pies, pickled eggs and warm beer,” he says. “No one is allowed to go home until they have sampled it all most of [the students] are very polite but the looks we get, expressing sentiments ranging from ‘yuck’ to pity, tell it all!”
The 1,000-year-old Worcester Cathedral, overlooking the River Severn, provides the perfect postcard setting, with many locals sunning themselves nearby during the warmer months. The River Severn itself is the longest river in the UK, and also winds through Gloucestershire, parts of Wales, the West Midlands and Shropshire. Shropshire is home to a small hamlet town called Bedstone, where the nearest set of traffic lights are 12 miles away, according to Rachel Pritchard from Bedstone College. “Traffic and pollution are totally non-existent,” she reveals, adding that the secondary school takes full advantage of the rural setting by offering a variety of outdoor activities. “We back onto Hopton Woods national mountain bike tracks,” she says. “Every week, children feel the exhilaration of hurtling down them at high speed. Getting a bit scared heightens the senses, helping children develop confidence and decision making.”
Pritchard suggests that students should visit the three Bedstone castles that the school’s houses are named after: Hopton, Stokesay and Wigmore. “I also recommend Bedstone Court itself a very unusual calendar house from the 1880s. It’s well worth exploring, although it’s reputed to be unlucky to try and count all 365 windows, 52 rooms, 12 chimneys and seven external doors!” In Northamptonshire, meanwhile, a two-and-a-half hour drive east of Bedstone, Holly Smith from the University of Northampton says, “We have many stately homes. For example, The University of Northampton Park Campus is a short distance from the stately home of Althorp, where Princess Diana spent her childhood, and where her brother, Earl Spencer, now lives. Althorp is open to the public and hosts events throughout the year, such as literary festivals.”
Smith continues that Northampton has a lot to offer international students, “in terms of shopping and social facilities, as well as offering excellent value for money for a town only one hour from London. The town has a multicultural environment, so students are often able to buy foods they are familiar with… without the expense of studying in a big city.” With a range of sporting facilities, “The University of Northampton has close links with Northampton Saints Rugby Club, Northampton Town Football Club and Northamptonshire Cricket Club, so our students can watch matches as well as take work experience and volunteering opportunities with the clubs.”
Heart of England in Leamington Spa, meanwhile, just 53 kilometres west of Northampton in Warwickshire, “is in a beautiful Regency town with lovely parks and architecture, and it’s very safe”, says Charlotte Badger at the school. The genteel spa town was also the birthplace of lawn tennis, she adds, explaining that Warwick Castle is “the finest Medieval castle in England”. Founded in 1068 by William the Conqueror, it was the ancestral home of the Earl of Warwick and remains impressively intact. “We organise afternoon and weekend excursions in the summer months,” she enthuses. “Unusual activities include making and flying kites, fruit picking and Morris men workshops.” The school also takes students to the Cotswold Olimpicks an annual public celebration of sports near Chipping Campden with events including the tug of war, dwile flonking (which involves avoiding a beer-soaked rag thrown at you while dancing) and piano smashing!
As Badger relates, the central location of the Midlands makes the rest of the UK very easily accessible. Illustrating that those who would prefer not to travel long distances have everything they need within the region, Knight adds, “The area encompasses everything a visitor is looking for, such as history, culture, commercial activity, modern entertainment and well-known educational institutes.” email@example.com
“Spanish students like that the Midlands is not as touristy as other areas of England and that they get the ‘real English’ experience. Students are surprised by how friendly the people are in Worcester it’s a good sized city with plenty of things to do. They enjoy being by the River Severn, the social programme and the excursions organised. My favourite part of the Midlands is the good transport links. Worcester is in close proximity to such a variety of places, from Stratford-upon-Avon to cities such as Birmingham, and from the charming Cotswolds to the beauty of the Malvern Hills. Also, the opportunity for students to get to experience what England is all about without coming across too many other overseas students is a plus for my clients.”
Delia Bas Mataix, England a Medida, Spain
“One of the main reasons why our students choose the Midlands is its central location in the England, making it easy for them to travel everywhere they want. Another strong point is the cheaper living cost compared with studying in London. Additionally, the high overall quality of the schools in the area is a deciding factor. Students always mention how easy it is to travel within Nottingham and the great social and cultural life in the city. Many of them enjoy the nightlife in Nottingham during the week and usually they travel on the weekends.”
Luciano Baldauf, ukstudy.com, UK
“What can certainly be said about Worcester is that it is an ideal place for clientele with high expectations. It is a ‘normal’ county town without the frills and razzmatazz of places such as the south coast resorts. There are no other language schools or providers and there is a healthy middle class which, as a result, produces excellent homestays.”
Peter Rupp, Biku Languages, Switzerland