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UK Education System

The UK is recognised around the world for its teaching excellence. Let's look at why.

Looking at the world university rankings, the UK has a proven track record. In the 2017-18 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge ranked number one and two respectively, with Imperial College London at number eight. Across global ranking systems, the criteria and fields for the study in the UK ranks highly for quality of education, student satisfaction and global reputation.

Then there’s the UK’s incredible reputation for innovation and world-class research You will benefit from the latest facilities alongside a long-standing academic tradition. Many students choose the UK higher education system to perfect their English and improve their employability.

How it works

Within the UK, the responsibility for education is devolved to each of the four jurisdictions: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are differences between the four countries within the UK such as how educational systems are regulated. The differences are most apparent in general and secondary education. As a result, there are several different qualifications and credit frameworks.

Qualifications framework

There are two parallel frameworks used in relation to higher education qualifications from UK degree-awarding bodies. One framework applies to Scotland Whilst the other operates in the rest of the UK. These are:

  • The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of Degree Awarding Bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ)
  • The Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions in Scotland (FQHEIS).

These frameworks are principal national reference points for academic standards in the UK’s higher education institutions. There are 160 universities and colleges in the UK which are permitted to award a wide variety of degrees to suit most educational aspirations.

Fees and scholarships

Tuition fees for UK higher education and further education courses vary, depending on:

  • where in the UK you choose to study (there are different rules for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales)

  • your study level.

For undergraduate students, tuition fees can range from £10,000 a year to about £18,000 a year, depending on the course and the institution. For all postgraduate courses, tuition fees vary by course provider.

Scholarships

There are a number of financial support options for international students who wish to study in the UK including: scholarships, grants, bursaries, fellowships, financial awards, loans –. Demand for a scholarships is always greater than supply; so ensure you maximise your chances, you should apply as early as you can.

A great starting point for students to start researching potential support options is ‘Study UK’. Students can also review the particular websites for the schools / universities they are interested in. Look for financial support well in advance of the start date of your course. It can be particularly hard to find funding, especially midway through the academic year.

Teaching and learning style

A UK education has a reputation for excellence and most international students rate the quality of teaching they receive very high. You can expect to be taught in a variety of ways. However, most students attend lectures and seminars, sometimes having tutorials and workshops.

During your studies in the UK, you are likely to be given a lot of freedom to explore your own ideas and to be creative. You may be expected to be an active member of the learning and teaching process, where you will do your own research or work in groups alongside other students for some projects. UK universities encourage the development of analytical and critical thinking in every subject, which can be initially somewhat daunting for some international students. However, this develops the required communications skills along with a deeper understanding of the subject.

A UK education is interactive, too. Tutors will encourage you to share your ideas and may well organise activities, such as debates, discussions and quizzes. The idea being that by having fun and getting involved, you will learn more successfully. This way of learning can feel daunting at first, but you will receive a lot of support from your tutors and with a little time should soon feel at ease. The ‘Prepare for Success’ website is a great resource that provides you with a lot of information about what classes and teaching in the UK are like, as well as other advice on how to succeed in your studies.

Higher education

Most institutions offer a variety of pathways for both domestic and international students to help make the transition into further education; these programmes are typically referred to as pathways or foundation courses.

Higher education courses can be taken by students to earn an advanced degree in order to continue their studies in the UK. There are three main categories of higher education courses, which lead to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

A Bachelor’s or undergraduate degree

Your academic studies on an undergraduate degree are designed to help you gain a thorough understanding of the subject. Degrees are classified as either ordinary or honours. An ‘ordinary’ degree is usually a three-year full-time course, whereas an ‘honours’ degree is usually a four-year full-time course.

Postgraduate study

If you are finishing your bachelor’s degree, how do you decide if undertaking postgraduate studies in the UK is right for you? Deciding to proceed to postgraduate studies is a big step. It means taking more time and staying out of the workforce a bit longer, but it can be worthwhile in the long term.

Pathway programmes

There are many pathway programmes leading into higher education for international students including foundation studies and English language preparation programmes. These programmes ensure students receive the extra support and assistance they need to succeed.

Academic year

In the UK, the standard academic year starts in September / October and runs until June / July. However, some courses can be more flexible offering a range of start dates. The typical deadline for applications for an undergraduate course starting in September is in the preceding January of the same year. There may also be a smaller January intake that has limited undergraduate, master’s, PhD and foundation courses available. Private pathway providers may offer additional start dates throughout the year.

Learning English

The UK is the number one destination worldwide for English language study (Study Travel Magazine, December 2012). The UK has long been at the forefront of language learning and teaching and has pioneered many of the teaching techniques now used around the world. The emphasis is on learning through participation and fun instead of just listening to the teacher. Classes involve discussions, problem solving and games. Students may also listen to songs, watch television or read magazines in order to practise their comprehension skills. Many English language courses are offered by universities and colleges to help international students prepare for a degree course in the UK. Universities call these degree preparation programmes ‘pre-sessional English courses’.

The UK Government has announced important changes to language testing for visa applications: reducing the number of tests which are accepted for visa purposes and bringing in new requirements for the way these tests are administered. IELTS, the world’s most popular high-stakes test of English for higher education and global migration, is approved as proof of the level of English for all UK visas.

IELTS Academic, IELTS General Training and IELTS Life Skills are all accepted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) as proof of English proficiency. However, it is your purpose for being in the UK which determines the type of IELTS test you need to take. Your IDP counsellor will advise you on this.

After graduation

Many international students wish to remain in the UK after they graduate in order to put the skills they have learnt into practice. You may be able to extend your stay if you meet the requirements for the schemes that the UK Government operates.

The schemes that are most applicable for students who have finished their studies include the following:

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)

This scheme is aimed at recent graduates and postdoctoral researchers who already have Tier 2 immigration permission and who have “genuine and credible business ideas and entrepreneurial skills” and whose UK college or university is prepared to endorse them under this scheme to help them develop these business ideas.

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)

This scheme requires the student to invest in a business in the UK. The student does not need a sponsor or an endorsing body.

Tier 2

This scheme is the main route to take if the student would like to take up employment in the UK. The lowest salary for this scheme is £20,800. In most cases, employers are not required to show that they have advertised the job and that no one else could do this job (resident labour market test) before offering this position to the student.

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker)

This scheme allows students to undertake specific types of work in the UK for a period of one or two years, depending on the scheme. The student must have a Tier 5 sponsor under the scheme of relevance to the student. The student’s Tier 5 sponsor must issue a certificate of sponsorship before the student can make an immigration application.

Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme

This scheme allows a new PhD graduate to spend one year in the UK after their PhD studies to undertake employment or self-employment. The student must apply before they finish their doctoral degree.

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