Study in the UK

United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland

Five Quick Points About the U.K.

  • Second only to the U.S. as a study destination for international students
  • London a major financial centre for the world
  • Increasingly multicultural
  • Old, rich, and tumultuous history for students with this kind of interest
  • Scottish system of education quite distinct from the education systems in the rest of U.K.

Education System

The education system in the U.K. (except for Scotland) comprises four main sectors: primary, secondary, further education, and higher education. Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 16 (inclusive). Students ordinarily attend primary until they are 11 years old and secondary until they are 16. They may then continue their secondary studies for a further two years (sixth form), leading most typically to an A-level qualification, although other qualifications and courses exist, including the BTEC and the International Baccalaureate. The Education and Skills Act 2008 raised the leaving age for compulsory education to 18. Stateprovided schools are free of charge to students, and there is also a tradition of independent schooling, but parents may choose to educate their children by any suitable means.

Higher education typically begins with a three-year bachelor’s degree. Post-graduate degrees include master’s degrees (usually one year and/or research) and PhDs (at least three years). Universities require a royal charter in order to issue degrees, and the state finances all but one with low fee-levels for students.

While the four countries of the U.K. have differing approaches to vocational education and training (VET), the training and qualifications are interchangeable and of the same standard. Three of the countries (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) share a common system of external qualifications within the National Qualifications Framework. There are separate bodies within each country responsible for regulating these qualifications.

England has approximately one-and-a-half million full- and part-time students studying in higher education. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education monitors and assesses standards across the range of qualifications offered. Further Education (FE) focuses on development of business and work skills and encourages ongoing lifelong learning and a skilled, efficient and productive workforce in England. The Learning and Skills Council and associated bodies formulate policy and administer further education.

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, higher education bodies are independent, self-governing institutions active in teaching, research, and scholarship. The state, not the institution, issues degrees and higher education qualifications.

In Wales, the National Assembly is responsible for the broad direction of policy for further education through the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning (DELLS). There are 12 universities and 25 further education colleges and institutions in Wales. English-language programmes are offered within many of these and access to free language support is available at all Wales’ institutions. Over 8,000 international students currently study in Wales, with about 10% of these from non-European Union (EU) countries. Most of the universities are located fairly close to the southern and western coasts.