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Guide to UK education system

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Read a comprehensive guide on UK education system. Know about higher education system in the UK and difference between US and UK education systems.

GyanDhan
Rohit Gidwani
Updated on:  25 Oct 2023  | Reviewed By: 
Aman 
| 1.41K | 11  min read

The UK has been a favoured abroad education destination for international students majorly because of its education system. This is evident when the number of international students in the UK reached to approx 559,000 in the year 2023 which is an all-time high for the country and a 23.7% increase from the previous year.

The education system in the United Kingdom is comprehensive, consisting of four main stages: primary education, secondary education, further education, and higher education. Each stage is designed to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to progress to the next level of education or enter the workforce.

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Basic education system in UK

Children in the United Kingdom enter the education system at the age of five and are required by law to attend school until they reach the age of sixteen.

The table below showcases a general breakdown of the basic UK education system.

Key Stage 1

5 to 7 Years

Key Stage 2

7 to 11 Years

Key Stage 3

11 to 14 Years

Key Stage 4

14 to 16 Years

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Different stages in UK education system

The education system in the UK is divided into four key stages: primary, secondary, further education, and higher education. 

An overview of the stages of UK education system is as follows:

  • list items Primary education - this begins from the age of 5 years and continues till the age of 11 years. Basic knowledge in subjects such as English, Mathematics, Physical Education, Science, and Geography is taught.
  • list items Secondary education - this phase of education begins at the age of 11 years and continues till the age of 16 years. This is the most important stage of education because it allows students to choose a future path for themselves. At the end of this phase, every student has to appear for a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam or any other national qualification.  
  • list items Further education - it begins once the student has given their GCSE exams. At this stage, a student can either choose to explore work opportunities or they can pursue further education through academic prospects or vocational prospects.    
  • list items Higher education - many top institutes are available for students to choose from. A student can pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, and a Ph.D. degrees in the same order.

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Higher education system in UK

Higher education institutes in the UK offer bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and diplomas/certifications. The below table shows the duration and estimated cost for these degrees.

Bachelor’s Degree

6 months to 4 years

Masters Degree

9 months to 2 years

Doctoral Degree

2 to 3 years

Diplomas and Certifications

1 to 2 years

Bachelor’s degree in UK

Generally, a bachelor's degree in the UK takes up to 3 years to complete but in some cases, it can go up to 4 years where a year of professional experience is required. Additionally, the states like England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales offer bachelor's degrees with a duration of 4 years. The tuition fees for bachelor’s degree in UK can range between £20,500 to £45,000.

Popular bachelor courses for students in UK

There are many bachelor's courses available in the UK for international students to choose from. A few of the most popular ones are listed below. 

  • list items Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • list items Bachelor of Science (BSc)
  • list items Bachelor of Law (LLB)
  • list items Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) 
  • list items Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.)
  • list items Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)

Master's degree in UK

MS in UK is generally a one-year course but can be extended to a two-year course by adding work placement opportunities to the course. The UK also provides opportunities for students to pursue an integrated master's degree that are eager to do this degree right after their schooling. It is 4 to 5 years of course including both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in an integrated manner. Tuition fees for MS in the UK for international students can range from £19,000 to £58,000.

There are 2 classifications for master’s degrees with respect to the UK education system.

  1. list items Masters by coursework - in this type of degree, students have regular classes in the first half and research work in the second half. 
  2. list items Masters by research - this is a degree whose tenure is around 1 to 2 years in which the students are expected to do research on an independent project and then submit a thesis at the end of the course.  

Popular master’s courses for students in UK

There are a plethora of master’s courses in the UK to choose from. Some of the most popular master’s courses are:

  • list items Master of Laws (LLM)
  • list items Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • list items Masters of Science (MSc)
  • list items Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
  • list items Master in Business Administration (MBA)
  • list items Master in Engineering (MEng)

Doctorate degree in the UK

This is a degree that can be pursued by the student once they have completed their master's degree in a selected field. Apart from it, they have to choose an original research topic on which they have to do research that needs to be submitted through a thesis. It generally takes 3 to 4 years to receive a doctorate degree in the UK.

Some popular doctorate degree for students in the UK

  • list items Professional Doctorates
  • list items Higher Doctorates
  • list items Doctorate of Philosophy


Do you know? UK has a Russell group of universities, which includes 24 reputed public universities, 4 out of which make it to the top 10 in various world university rankings!

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Educational quality frameworks in UK education system

Below mentioned are the frameworks that are integrated into the UK education system to ensure quality education delivery to students. 

  1. list items Qualifications framework

A qualification framework is a national principle that governs the education standards of a country. Two parallel frameworks run in higher education which includes

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

This is one of the most unique features of the UK education system as it helps to maintain the quality of education that is being provided to students. This is an independent body that regularly audits and reviews the universities so that they can assess and compare them. They also identify areas of improvement and recommend some advisable action so that the quality of education can be further increased.

Do you know that due to these quality frameworks, the employability of international UK graduate students increases? As per the latest data by HESA 81% of graduates were employed with 76% in the UK having a high skilled occupations.  

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Credit system used in UK education system

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) is the credit system which is used by UK educational institutions to evaluate and record the performance of students in different programs. Every degree has a different credit requirement but generally, one credit is equal to 10 hours' worth of learning outcomes. The credit system for different degrees is as follows:

Program Name Total credits

Bachelor’s degree

300

Bachelor (Hons.) degree

360

Master’s degree

180

Integrated master’s degree

480

Professional Doctorate degree

540

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Grading system used in UK education system

In order to describe the student's academic accomplishments in an effective manner, the UK education system has a detailed grading system. UK universities use alphabetic letters from A to F to denote the students' performance in academics. In this grading system, A stands for outstanding performance while F stands for fail. A detailed grading system that is being used in UK universities is shown in the table below:

A

Excellent to outstanding

70% - 100%

B

Good to very good

60% - 69%

C

Satisfying

50% - 59%

D

Sufficient

40% - 49%

E

Unsatisfactory

30% - 39%

F

Unsatisfactory

0 - 29%


The degrees can be further classified in different categories based on the academic scores. The classification is as follows:

  • list items First-class Degree/Honours: 70% and above
  • list items Second-class Degree/Honours: 50% - 70%
  • list items Third-class Degree/Honours: 40% - 50%

 

Note: The main thing that you as an Indian student needs to adapt here in a UK university is academic writing which is the use of references, citations, and more university-specific norms. They have a considerable contribution to your overall grades.  

Grading system in the UK differs from what is used in the Indian education system. To make sure you are eligible to apply to universities in the UK, use the grade converter tool for free

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UK vs US: Which has a better education system?

The education systems in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) differ in many ways. Here are some of the key differences:

Basis of difference UK education system  US education system

Age range

Higher education starts at 15 to 18 years

Higher education starts at 17 to 19 years

Curriculum

Standardized Curriculum all over the country

Curriculum differs between states

Grading system

A to G grades

A to F Grades

Universiy admission

Based on academic qualifications and past grades

Holistic approach covers more than just academic qualifications

Cost

It is less expensive

It is highly expensive

 

UK education system is developed in a manner that is able to provide the best quality education to the students no matter what stage of education they are in. The integration of qualification frameworks and a quality assurance system is what makes the education system of the UK unique.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How many intakes are there for UK universities?

There are majorly 3 intakes that you need to keep an eye on when you are planning to take admitted to a UK university. They are:

  • list items September intake: Between September to December
  • list items January intake: Between January to April
  • list items May intake: Between May to June

What is Pathway Program in the UK?

A Pathway Program allows international students to study in UK schools so that they are able to learn more about British Culture and the UK education system. Generally, a pathway program is one year long that is focused on one discipline. This program may or may not lead to admission to a UK university. 

How master in research program different from a traditional master's program?

Unlike traditional master's programs, the Master's by Research program is more focused on independent research in a specific subject area, conducted with the guidance of a supervisor. This program places greater emphasis on conducting original research and making a unique contribution to the field. 

Why credit system is important in UK education system?

Credit system is a helpful mechanism as it helps to calculate student progress and help to take admission to higher education. Apart from that in case a student wants to transfer to a different university these credits can be transferred. 

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