Simplifying the UK Higher Education System


Responsible for the English language, cricket and some of the highest-ranked universities in the world, the UK is the study abroad destination of choice for thousands of international students every year. With a multitude of institutions that offer a wide range of qualifications in numerous fields, kick-starting your study abroad planning process may seem overwhelming or even scary. But don’t worry: our breakdown of the UK’s higher education system should help make things clearer and get you on your way.

Types of institution
Higher education institutions in the UK are either degree-awarding (‘recognized bodies,’ called universities and colleges) or non-degree awarding, but provide bridging courses for entry into a degree-awarding program (‘listed bodies’). Students should always confirm the exact nature and details of their prospective course of study with their host institution directly.

Recognized bodies: Universities and Colleges
There are 160 universities and colleges across the UK that offer study programs in all fields, across both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Recognized bodies are permitted to award students Bachelor, Masters, and Doctorate qualifications, as well as selected other higher education awards depending on the nature of the institution.

Listed bodies & other institutions
Whilst these institutions do not have the power to award degrees, they offer a number of vocationally-oriented and bridging programmes that may lead directly to employment, a degree program or focus on developing a specific, technical skillset.

Academic culture
Academic culture in the UK values initiative and expects students to follow coursework and manage their academic progress independently.
Classes vary in nature but often involve both a lecture and tutorial/seminar or practical class component. Discussion in tutorial classes is encouraged, and venturing an opinion, even if it contradicts that of the professor, is taken as proof of engagement with course content: provided, of course, that it is substantiated. What is covered in the lecture is often intended as a departure point for tutorial discussions, where students are encouraged to form their own opinions based on their understanding of the concepts covered. Professors commonly set weekly reading and short assessment tasks that are similarly intended to equip students with the critical tools to participate in the discussion and expound upon basic ideas covered. These tasks are seldom graded.

Assessment is typically spread over a smaller amount of longer-form tasks such as research essays or extended investigations. Examinations are common and a heavily-weighted part of your final grade. Some courses even have final examinations worth 100% of the overall grade.
Most universities will have an intranet, ‘study portal’ system through which students may be required to submit assignments, either as well as or instead of a paper copy. Students are given login details before they are due to start class, and are usually able to manage their enrolment status, course load, and access links to student resources through this portal.
Similarly, some professors will record their lectures, seminars, or tutorials and put them on this intranet for students to use as a revision tool. This is also intended to make the class content accessible for those who, for whatever reason, could not attend the class.