UK Education system

The UK remains a very popular destination for international students with only the US attracting larger numbers.

Why do you want to study in the UK?

In 2018–19, there were 485,645 international students studying at UK higher education institutions, accounting for roughly 20% of the total student population in the UK.

The education system in the United Kingdom is divided into four main stages: primary education, secondary education, further education and higher education.

Education in the UK is compulsory for all children aged 5 (4 in Northern Ireland) to 16. For children under five, publicly-funded nurseries and pre-schools are available. Primary education begins in the UK at age 5 and continues until age 11 (years 1 to 6).

From 11 to 16 years old children attend secondary school (years 7-11) completing with GCSEs (general certificate of secondary education) exams. Once students have completed their GCSEs, they have the choice to either move into further education (with a path to higher education) or vocational education. For students who do not pursue academic qualifications until the end of Year 13, these qualifications are roughly equivalent to the completion of high school in many other countries, or high school graduation in the United States and Canada.

Further education (post-16 education) can take a number of forms and may be academic or vocational.

Academic education is pursued through continued schooling, known in the UK as "sixth form" or "college", leading to A-level (Advanced) qualifications. A-Levels are a subject-based qualification for students aged 16 and above. They are usually studied over the course of 2 years, and lead to qualifications recognised for entrance to higher education institutions in the UK and many other countries worldwide. Most schools in the UK have "6th Form" for students to enter after they have taken their GCSEs. As an alternative, there are many "sixth form Colleges" that will offer the same courses from students at schools that do not have a sixth form.

Students can also pursue a number of alternative qualifications such as Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC), or International Baccalaureate (IB), which is a much broader qualification in terms of subjects studied, than A Levels. UK students planning to go to college or university must complete further education.

For students who are not so academically minded, they still have the option to further their education by studying a vocational course.

Higher education in the UK is divided into two levels: undergraduate (Bachelors) and postgraduate (Masters and PhDs). The UK traditionally offers 3-year undergraduate degrees and 1-year Masters programmes at its universities. In Scotland undergraduate degrees take 4 years. In the UK about one-third of all students go on to some form of higher education and this number is well over 50% for students from Scotland. This makes competition for schools very fierce and so it is advised to apply early for courses.

In the UK, students typically complete 13 years of education. The last two years at school - A Levels (Advanced Level qualifications) are subject-based qualifications for students aged 16 and above, which prepare them for entering the university. The A-Level final exams are also considered university entrance exams. The university requirements for grades depend on the university and the competition. For example, for admission to Cambridge, all subjects must be passed at the maximum score.

International students who have completed less than 13 years of education and would like to take undergraduate degree in UK will need to study a foundation course at a UK university or college.

One-year foundation course is a bridge between international students' current qualifications and UK university undergraduate entry requirements. It helps international students improve the level of English and academic preparation, as well as get familiar with the life and study methods in the UK. Certain foundation course providers can guarantee progression from a Foundation course to the Bachelor's programme.

Foundation Course Requirements
A minimum IELTS score of 4.5 is required for international students wishing to study a foundation, with no single element less than 4.0

In the UK most undergraduate degree programmes take three years to finish (Scotland being the exception with four years of undergraduate study). The so-called "sandwich course, which is 4 years of education and involves one year in the workplace (normally in your third year), " is gaining popularity in the UK.

The Bachelor's degrees in the UK are designed in a way to give you a thorough understanding of a subject or field of study. There are different types of bachelor's degrees offered in the UK, including: Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Education (BEd) and Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degrees. If you complete all years of the degree successfully with at least a third class pass, you'll get an 'honours' degree.

Application: All undergraduate applications in the UK are submitted through centralised UCAS system (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). The majority of universities will only accept your application through the UCAS system. Students are required to fill out an application form online and write a personal statement. They can choose up to five courses at the same or different universities in the UK.

Note: The application process for Oxford or Cambridge is a little different and different dates will apply to the application process. Normally, you cannot apply to both Cambridge and Oxford at the same time and need to select either.

"Postgraduate" is used to describe graduate students studying a second-cycle qualification, typically a Master's, postgraduate certificate or postgraduate diploma. The term "postgraduate" is also applied to describe those studying for PhD.8

Master's degree programme in the UK follows the successful completion of an undergraduate degree for a duration of one year compared to two-year Master's programmes found in many other parts in the world. Compared with an undergraduate degree, Master's degrees are usually more intense and fast-paced, but also more flexible in terms of modules and study options. Often, they are also cheaper.

There are four main types of taught MA programme, Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Engineering (MEng)

Application: There is no centralised system (like UCAS) to submit postgraduate applications in the UK, and in the majority of cases students need to apply directly to their chosen university. Most universities allow sending applications throughout the year, but some degree courses have specific deadlines. It's best to contact the university to find out specific details about their graduate application process. Foreign students need to allow a few extra months.

PhD is a research degree and is the highest award available at universities in the UK. Study is based around a substantial research project on an area of academic interest, typically up to 100,000 words in length, written as a thesis, which must be defended in an oral examination in front of a panel of experts.

UK tuition fees for undergraduate programmes are capped at £9,250 per year in tuition costs for the 2021-22 academic year. International students can expect to pay between £10,000 and £35,000 annually. You can check the cost of courses at the University you are applying to on their website. As you would expect, tuition fees for medical degrees may cost more.

For a Master's degree, what you pay will be determined by the duration of the course, its perceived reputation and quality. Tuition fees range from around £4,900 a year to over £ 30,000, with the average of £11,000 a year. Fees for international students will normally be higher (source UCAS).

Beyond the tuition fees, as a foreign student, you can also expect to pay £800 – £1,300 a month (depending on location), to cover accommodation, bills, food and other living costs (source: British Council).