Long distance relationship or transfer university?
March 13, 2012 2:54 AM   Subscribe

I'll be moving to London in October for work, but my partner is enrolled in university here with two years of studies to go for his undergraduate degree. We need to weigh up our options and are looking for advice on transferring schools or the prospect of a long distance relationship.

We're living in an EU city where he gets financial assistance for studying, so that he doesn't pay fees and can get by frugally by working over the summer and occasionally at weekends.

We're researching the possibility of him transferring to a university course in London for two years, but the cost of tuition would put him in debt, something he's quite reluctant to do. On the other hand, there are more options for evening degrees and distance learning in London, as well as (I imagine) more opportunities for working and earning, and I would cover most of the rent so the cost of living for him wouldn't be significantly bigger for him there. Also, from London he'd be able to get home to family much easier than from our current city.

Another option is for him to stay enrolled in his current university, but a long distance relationship is really not what we'd like. We've been together very happily for 2 years (living together for 6 months), and while I would travel back often to be with him, he wouldn't have the funds to travel much and wouldn't accept my financial assistance for this.

Has anyone faced a dilemma like this? How did you make a decision? Do you have experience transferring to a UK university mid-degree? Or are there other factors we're not considering? I know that the decision is ultimately his; we're just looking for insights and advice which might inform the decision a bit better.

Possibly relevant information - he's an EU national and a mature student (in his thirties) studying in a humanities field.
posted by hannahlambda to Education (9 answers total)
It all depends on where 'here' is and how accessible it is from London I suppose.

Long distance relationships can and do work. I managed one for 9 years with a distance of 400 miles between us. Now we're together and have a son. They can be a pain, and you definitely have to make an effort. But they have their advantages as well, I suppose - seeing each other only every few weeks keeps up a level of excitement you probably wouldn't get if you're together all the time. You appreciate your partner more when you do see them.

If he has no money, though, it could pose a problem, especially if he won't let you buy travel tickets for him. I think both of you have to make the effort to see each other, it can't be one going to the other all the time or one of you may start to resent that. Plus, I think you both need to be involved in the other person's lfe. Say you came to London and met and had fun with people your partner never met, I don't think that would work too well. He might get jealous, for instance. And I think the new people you meet need to know your partner too. Otherwise you're this person with a phantom partner who they may not take seriously. It helps to cement the relationship if each of you is comfortable in the other's social circle.

So maybe it'd be better for them to move with you. But that could end up badly too. If it doesn't work out too well for him, academically or otherwise, he may start resenting the fact that he moved when he could have stayed. And coming to London saddled with debt may not be too good an idea.

So anyway, I say give the long distance thing a go, I suppose. It's only for a couple of years.
posted by ComfySofa at 3:35 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Transferring to a UK university mid-way through a degree is unusual. I think you would need to investigate with specific university departments whether it would be possible. If his current university uses the Bologna process then that will make it much easier.

I assume that he is an EU citizen and so doesn't need a visa. If thats not the case, then it will complicate things significantly.
posted by plonkee at 3:59 AM on March 13, 2012

Depending on the program English universities can be appallingly bad. Be very careful about assuming that a English university degree will be respected if you looking at schools not in the very top ranks (oxbridge or UCL).

I was pretty stunned when I learned just how soft English undergraduate education was and in a hiring situation I would completely disregard an English degree, regardless of class, unless there was some other evidence of competence to accompany it.
posted by srboisvert at 4:31 AM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: To clarify - he's an EU citizen, and we're contacting admissions departments to see about transferring. We're currently in Ireland, which is very well connected with London, but not having money makes it harder :) Thank you all kindly so far.
posted by hannahlambda at 4:59 AM on March 13, 2012

while srboisvert has a point, it is somewhat overstated. Imperial College London and the LSE are world class, as well as UCL. Kings College London is respected. There are also plenty of smaller specialist institutions with a good international reputation.

A more serious problem is that London is famously, brutally, expensive. Unless you are getting a big salary bump, there's no way you'll be able to retain the same quality of life as you would in a European city. Of course London has lots of compensating virtues, in terms of cultural life, diversity, buzz etc. I've lived here all my life, and I love it. But it isn't cheap.

You're also stepping into a tough job market; casual work is not as easy to pick up as it once was.

If I were your partner, I'd either stay put, or find a job and do an evening degree at Birkbeck.
posted by Touchstone at 5:01 AM on March 13, 2012

It is possible to be admitted to a UK university with advanced standing (i.e. credit for previous university study elsewhere), e.g. at UCL, though my impression is that it's unusual. Much would depend on the subject and the quality of the institution from which one is moving. If it's University College Cork, that's probably a plus.

My wife and I spent a year commuting between Paris and Berlin, with visits every six weeks or so. It can be done, and as ComfySofa wrote, it does make time together more precious. We had been together for over four years at that point, though, we knew it was only for a year, and we were committed to making it work.

If you do decide to give a long-distance relationship a try, I think both of you will need to reframe how you think about money. Tickets to travel are an expense for the relationship, regardless of who is traveling. If you're the one whose income makes it possible to have a successful long-distance relationship in the first place, then you should pay for the tickets whether it's for you to visit him or vice versa. If he refuses to accept the tickets because it somehow makes him feel beholden to you, I think you have bigger problems than choosing between a LDR and transferring.

You could also try reframing how you think about the next two years: not as two years living apart, but as two years during which he will be gone part of the time. It looks as if UCC (again, presuming that is his current university) has two 3-month terms, plus examinations. Could he spend 6 months of the year there, and the rest of the year in London?
posted by brianogilvie at 5:23 AM on March 13, 2012

My husband and I did three years long distance - trans-Atlantically. (I was in the US, he was in the UK).

We made this work by heavy usage of Internet phone (we skyped before Skype was around), and spent the summers together. It wasn't ideal, but very doable.
posted by jb at 5:29 AM on March 13, 2012

Is he at UCC? To be 100% honest, undergrad students get so much time off I am not sure I'd bother transferring for 2 years. You get three weeks at Christmas plus a reading week; four weeks at Easter; and the longest summer break in recorded history. You are actually only enrolled in 24 weeks of term time, 12 at a go. You also get four weeks of holiday yourself. My last Cork / London return ticket was €65.50 including all taxes and fees and a checked bag. That's less than the train fare to Dublin. I only booked 5 weeks in advance and there wasn't a sale.

As gently as possible, if you can't make this work with the 34 weeks of holiday each year available to you and very cheap, accessible transport, it's not really a go-er. Honestly, between term breaks, holidays and weekends, you can spend absolute loads of time together over the next two years.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:47 AM on March 13, 2012

I studied in Glasgow for two years whilst my partner was in London, for similar reasons to you and your partner. My education was soooo much cheaper winning a scholarship in Glasgow and the cost of living in London would've been horrible for me.

Get him to accept certain trips? (you have to learn to be comfortable with help fom your partner!). And of course book super early and it'll be much easier.

Unless moving to London means he get at somewhere prestigious like UCL making his degree more valuable If I were him I wouldn't (an I didn't!) move. 2 years was doable.

Saying that... No, I wouldn't do it a second time...
posted by jujulalia at 7:35 AM on March 13, 2012

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