UK Education System

In the UK, there are 2 types of schools –

  • State schools – funded by the government and free for all pupils. Over 90% of British students attend these. State schools do not accept international students, except for the dependent children accompanying an adult international student. There are many excellent state schools.
  • Independent or private schools – charging tuition fees. Independent schools in the UK have an excellent reputation for high standards of teaching and learning. Prospective international students can apply to study at independent schools.

Both adhere to the schooling standards set by the British government. Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 18 years (inclusive).

The UK education system comprises of the following 4 main sectors –

  • Primary School : For students between 5 – 11 years and from Kindergarten to Year 6
  • Secondary School (High School) : For students between 11 – 16 years old and from Years 7 – 11. Upon completion of standardized exams in their chosen subjects, students graduate with a GCSE qualification.
  • Further Education / Pre-University : For students from 16 – 18 years old and Years 12 – 13. Once a student completes secondary education, they will go on to Further Education which could be either Secondary school (also called 6th Form) or at a college for 2 years. This is referred to as years 12 & 13 in the UK Education system. Some students will choose to graduate from Further Education with a Vocational Qualification. Others may pursue an academic qualification & move on to pursue Higher Education. Further Education colleges may be large and comprehensive institutions with many study options, or specialized in certain areas of the study, such as Visual/Performing Arts colleges, and Agricultural/land-based colleges. There are also Sixth form colleges, which are dedicated to 16-19 year olds and often connected to secondary schools to ease the transition between the two levels of studies. Students graduate with an A-level qualification.
  • Higher Education : For students from 18+ years old. It comprises of –
    => Undergraduate studies of 3 or 4 years depending on whether a student chooses to add what is called a “sandwich year” or work experience. Some professional degrees such as medicine, veterinary sciences & architecture require 5 years or more of study.
    => Masters (post-graduate) of 1 year. It could be longer if internship is included.
    => Integrated Masters Degree, which is a unique option that UK offers. This is 4 year program combining undergrad & graduate study. Students can be admitted after their Further Education & receive their Masters Degree at the end of this program, and
    => PhD 3-5 years.

The qualifications that students can earn fall into one of the 8 levels that are established by the government based on level of difficulty. Qualifications that are commonly pursued in the UK, and the levels they are at, are specified in the “Ofqual Register of Regular Qualifications”,

Foundation Programs

Students who wish to study in the UK may first take a preparatory course, known as a foundation studies or pathway program, to gain the academic or English language skills they need for admission in higher education courses. Foundation courses are offered by British universities and colleges, as well as by private study centers with university partnerships, and help students easily transition into their degree course. Following are the 4 Foundation pathways available for international students :

English Language Programs

Students can strengthen their English skills by taking a pre-sessional English language course. The courses can range from a few weeks to a term or a year depending on the student’s level of English proficiency. These courses also help students gain exposure to the British culture, helping them overcome culture shock and settle into life in the UK more easily.

Academic Pathway Program

Academic pathway programs help students gain the academic skills and subject-specific knowledge they need to enroll and be successful in their desired degree course. Many institutions also offer Pre-Masters preparation programs to help prospective students meet the requirements for direct entry to a Master’s degree.

International Foundation Year

In many parts of the world, students complete their secondary education after Grade 12 or Year 12. British students, on the other hand, do not begin undergraduate studies until after Year 13. As a result, many international students must begin their British education with a one-year pre-university program known as International Foundation Year.

International Year One

The International Year One is an intensive, 2-3 term program which is equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree. It is intended for international students who show academic potential but do not meet the requirements for direct entry into a degree program. Students enrolled in this program typically already have their A-levels (or equivalent). They study undergraduate first year level subjects, while receiving a higher level of academic and English language support. After completing this program, students are ready to advance into the second year of their chosen undergraduate degree course and earn their degree at the same time as their local peers.

Application Deadlines

An academic year typically begins in September in the UK, and includes three terms: Autumn/Fall (September to December), Spring (January to April) and Summer (May to August). Some institutions also offer courses at multiple times during the year and therefore have varying deadlines for each start dates.

Please note that admission is generally offered on a rolling basis. This means, universities review and make admission decisions as they receive applications. Applications close once the course fills up. Some courses fill up quickly, so students should apply as early as they can.

Working While Studying

Many international students choose to work while studying to earn an income, as well as to gain valuable British work experience to support their professional growth. Students with a valid Tier 4 Student Visa are eligible to work in the UK while studying. The number of hours a student is eligible to work will depend on the level of the education they’re pursuing. Students enrolled in a full-time program at degree level and above can work for a maximum of 20 hours in any given week. If they are studying below degree level, they may work up to 10 hours in a given week. Students can also work full-time during vacation periods: winter, summer and spring holiday breaks when classes are not in session.