United Kingdom


Hosting over 500,000 international students, the UK is the world’s second leading study destination (after the US), largely thanks to the strong global reputation of UK
universities. An impressive 71 UK universities feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2018 and four institutions are currently ranked within the global top 10.

The experiences, knowledge, and confidence gained by studying in the UK will inspire you to create your own path in life.

Higher education in the UK varies in each constituent state (England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland), though the systems are fairly similar. Undergraduate degrees at universities in the UK typically last three years, although courses in Scotland are usually a year longer. Some UK universities also offer fast-track undergraduate courses which can be completed in as little as two years. You could also choose a vocational-based foundation degree, which typically lasts one or two years and is similar to the US associate’s degree.

Students in the UK start their higher education with a bachelor’s degree, although for some subjects you can enroll on an undergraduate degree that leads directly into a master’s program – these combined courses are four years long. Taken separately, master’s programs last one or two years, and PhDs at least three. Courses are taught in English at most universities in the UK, with some Welsh-language programs offered in Wales and Scottish Gaelic-language programs in Scotland.


  • The UK is ranked No.1 for International students for overall satisfaction
  • The UK Is ranked No.1 for undergraduates across five measures of student experience
  • The UK Is ranked No.1 for recommendation by international students at all levels.
  • 16 UK Universities appear in the Top 100 World top Universities
  • Most of the Universities are members of the ACU, Association of Commonwealth Universities.
  • The sports soccer, rugby, golf, boxing, and cricket were all invented in the
    United Kingdom.
  • The author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling is from the United Kingdom.
  • Big Ben in London actually doesn’t refer to the clock. Big Ben is the bell that is located in the clock tower.


The education system in the UK is divided into four main parts, primary education,
secondary education, further education and higher education. Children in the UK have to legally attend primary and secondary education which runs from about 5 years old until the student is 16 years old.

The education system in the UK is also split into “key stages” which breaks down as follows:

  • Key Stage 1: 5 to 7 years old
  • Key Stage 2: 7 to 11 years old
  • Key Stage 3: 11 to 14 years old
  • Key Stage 4: 14 to 16 years old

Generally key stages 1 and 2 will be undertaken at primary school and at 11 years old a student will move onto secondary school and finish key stages 3 and 4.

Students are assessed at the end of each stage. The most important assessment
occurs at age 16 when students pursue their GCSE’s or General Certificate of
Secondary Education. Once students complete their GCSE’s they have the choice to go onto further education and then potential higher education, or finish school and go into the working world.

Our overview of the education system in the UK is divided into five main sections:

Primary Education
Primary education begins in the UK at age 5 and continues until age 11, comprising key stages one and two under the UK educational system. Please visit the British Council page for more information on primary education.

Secondary Education
From age 11 to 16, students will enter secondary school for key stages three and four and to start their move towards taking the GCSE’s – learn more about secondary
education in the UK and what it will involve. Primary and secondary education is
mandatory in the UK; after age 16, education is optional.

Further Education
Once a student finishes secondary education they have the option to extend into
further education to take their A-Levels, GNVQ’s, BTEC’s or other such qualifications. UK students planning to go to college or university must complete further education.

Higher Education
Probably the most important subject area on this site, this explains more about the higher education system in the UK and how it works for international students. Most international students will enter directly into the UK higher education system, after completing their home country’s equivalent to the UK’s “further education.”

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