The UK Higher Education System Explained

July 5, 2021

uk higher education system

The UK higher education system has a high reputation, especially in terms of the consistency of teaching standards. British education system differs slightly from that of many other countries. In the United Kingdom, high education is done in 13 years. Most countries have a 12-year education system. The regular academic year begins in September or October and ends in June or July. 

Primary education, secondary education, further education, and higher education are the four major components of the UK education framework. At the end of each point, students are evaluated. The most critical examination comes after students reach the age of 16 when they take their GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). After completing their GCSEs, students have the option of continuing their studies or pursuing further education and beginning their university studies. Foreign students are required to have similar forms of credentials and grades in order to apply for direct access to undergraduate studies.

Primary Education

All kids between five to sixteen years of age are required to attend full-time school in England and Wales. Northern Ireland’s compulsory schooling starts at the age of four. There are government-operated nurseries and pre-schools for infants under the age of five.

At the age of eleven, children complete primary schooling and enter high school. Parents have the option of sending their children to public or private schools. Every student in the United Kingdom between the ages of five and sixteen is entitled to a free seat in a state school. This stands in stark contrast to the private education market, where taxes are very large. There are four groups of public schools in the United Kingdom. The first one is the community school, which is operated by the city government which also offers its amenities as well as programs such as nursery and adult literacy courses.

In addition, there are foundation and trust colleges. A foundation school has its own governing board that hires employees and determines admissions standards, while a trust school is a kind of foundation school that establishes a charitable trust with an outside party. Voluntary-aided schools are mostly theological or “faith” schools, but anybody may apply. The regulatory authority, as with foundation colleges, hires personnel and establishes entry requirements. Voluntary-controlled schools are comparable to voluntary-aided schools except that they are run by the local government.

uk higher education system

Secondary Education

Secondary schooling (also known as a high school in the United Kingdom, sixth form, and “college”) lasts five to seven years. In the United Kingdom, students aged 12 to 16 are expected by law to enter high school. This level of mandatory education is referred to as “lower secondary.”

Students who complete lower secondary school can choose to opt for jobs or vocational training. They can also continue their education at college or sixth form, where 16 to 18-year-olds train for university. The topics learned in primary school are included in the curriculum of every secondary school. In addition, students must study at least 1 foreign language, attend citizenship courses, and participate in personal, social, and health education. Furthermore, several state colleges are “specialist schools.” They concentrate on one or two aspects of the program. So, if your children are talented in mathematics and science, or if they do have a remarkable passion for music, it makes perfect sense for them to attend a high school that matches their talents.

Further Education

When a student completes high school, he/she has the opportunity of continuing their studies to pursue A-Levels, GNVQs, BTECs, and other similar certificates. As per the system of higher education in Great Britain students of the United Kingdom who want to attend college or university must undergo additional schooling.

UK Higher Education System

In the United Kingdom, there are over 160 higher education establishments. The prestigious Russell Group, an organization of 24 top research universities, is one of them.

Many of London’s top universities, including SOAS University of London, UCL, Goldsmiths University of London, and the Queen Mary University of London, are affiliated with the University of London. Most practical uses, such as admissions and finances, are handled by the schools as though they were separate colleges. However, as a student at either of the affiliated colleges, you can frequently have links to facilities in the University of London, such as other schools’ libraries, the Senate House library, and special student incentives and discounts.

There are several other colleges in the world that deliver a variety of courses ranging from standard undergraduate degrees to specialist foundation years and technical programs. Most colleges deliver classes in both the arts and sciences, although a few universities, such as Imperial College London, which specializes in science and technology, drama schools such as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and music and dance conservatoires, educate in one discipline only.

Grading System in UK Higher Education System

As it has been shown to be such an effective instrument for assessing student success, many international countries, including USA, Canada, Australia, and India, use the same grading method on occasion with minor modifications to suit their own specific educational background. Universities in the United Kingdom use a letter grading scale ranging from A to F to assess their students’ academic success. If you get an A, it ensures you have shown exceptional intelligence, while an F indicates that your performance is insufficient to pass the test according to the British higher education system. This grading system extends beyond the assumption that all students of the same grade fall into separate label bands. Final degrees are often graded at the undergraduate level based on average student academic performance.


If you are planning to study abroad, the United Kingdom offers a wide range of higher education options. There is no lack of opportunities for students, with over 100 colleges providing a variety of degree programs. In the United Kingdom, roughly one-third of all students go on to some level of higher education. It’s no surprise that the country is a popular choice amongst foreign students as well.

With her expertise in the study abroad space, Shreya has worked closely with EdTech leaders like Unacademy, upGrad, Shiksha, and CollegeDunia. She knows her way around words, both written and spoken, which is also her strongest suit. A passionate learner and a mentor, she is often found passing her knowledge to young minds.
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