Get a glimpse into what it would be like to study in the UK

By Annie Rose Stathes, edited by Valeri Boyle
Published April 25, 2014

The United Kingdom is comprised of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Together, the countries form one nation state, the United Kingdom, which is also commonly referred to as Great Britain. Though the countries are united, education in the UK is a devolved matter, meaning each country has its own education system.

The official language of the UK is English, and the majority of colleges and universities are English-language schools. However, other languages, such as Scots, Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic are also spoken throughout the UK, and some colleges and universities offer courses or programs in languages other than English.

Students from around the world complete their certificate, bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD programs at colleges and universities throughout the United Kingdom.

UK Education in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Most of the colleges and universities in the United Kingdom offer certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs. Many of those programs’ academic years are divided into three terms, but some are divided into semesters. No matter their structure, most programs begin in September and end in June. Certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs in the UK typically take one, four, or six to eight years to complete respectively. Spending a longer length of time in the UK can allow you to practice your English, participate in new and interesting cultures, and enjoy the good life England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have to offer. You can also enjoy summers off, using the time to explore the rest of Europe or head home for a visit.

There are many quality universities in the UK. The following section outlines some of the more popular schools in each country:

Education in England

Four of the top-ranked colleges in the world are located in England. The University of Cambridge, the University College London, the Imperial College London, and the University of Oxford were ranked 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively by QS World University Rankings. Numerous other colleges were ranked within the top 100 colleges and universities in the world.

Education in Scotland

Three of the top-ranked colleges in the world are located in Scotland. The University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, and the University of St. Andrews were ranked 17th, 51st, and 83rd respectively by QS World University Rankings. Each of these and other high quality schools in Scotland can allow international students to earn a quality education

Education in Wales

There are 12 colleges and universities spread throughout the small country of Wales. Many of those schools have relatively large international student-bodies, and, according to the Wales government, towns and schools in Wales take good care of their students. According to the Fullbright Commission, Aberystwyth, a town and resort in Wales, has been voted best university town in Britain; and, according to The Guardian, a popular news source in the UK, Swansea University in Wales “is regularly among the best performers in the national student survey”. Plus, many colleges and universities in Wales offer financial incentives (scholarships, grants, and other funding) to international students.

Education in Northern Ireland

There are two primary universities in Northern Ireland: the Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Ulster. Both are well-respected schools, and Ireland’s education system is held in high regard by people throughout the world. In fact, in the middle ages, Ireland was one of the principal providers of education to the western world. Northern Ireland’s communities and government support and invest in higher education, and the country’s public schools provide quality education.

Why Should I Earn an Education in the UK?

There are numerous benefits to studying in the United Kingdom, especially for students for whom English is not a native language or for whom the UK presents a culture dramatically different from their own. And, thankfully for such students, larger cities in the UK, especially London, have a large international population, making it easier to enjoy the challenge of discovering a new culture while also connecting to some of the more familiar elements of home.

Also, studying in the UK can also allow students to better prepare for careers in fields and industries dependent upon clear communication and otherwise successful relationships between multiple countries. Students from China and India especially (but not exclusively), for example, can prepare for careers in fields and industries that need professionals from China and India (for example) who speak English and have first-hand knowledge of western countries. Attending college in the UK can help students from India, China, and other countries develop the knowledge and language-skills necessary to negotiate emerging social, economic, and political exchanges between countries throughout the world.


Annie Rose Stathes is a Colorado-based writer, teacher and political scientist. Her background is in international affairs and she holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science.