Anglophilia: UK University course length | Varsity Education

Anglophilia: UK University course length

Back in February, Google revealed that London, Oxford and Cambridge are the most searched for cities by US students wishing to study abroad. Google’s education industry head, Harry Walker, remarked, ‘No matter how we looked at it, by university brand or just generic keywords, there is no doubt that London and the United Kingdom are the biggest magnets for US students looking to study abroad.” Over the last month we have examined just what makes UK higher education so attractive to those overseas, including our history, our fees and our meritocratic admission policies. In the final of this series, we take a look at another attractive feature: UK university course length.

The Basics

For the basis of this article we will be concentrating on the education system in England as Scottish education is more akin to the US style. In the UK the majority of classroom undergraduate degrees are completed in three years, not four. This means that an eighteen year old student entering fulltime higher education can be qualified by 21, and complete a postgraduate MA by 22, ready to enter the workforce more quickly than their US contemporaries.

Breaking it down, it usually looks like this:

Qualification UK US
BA 3 Years 4 Years
MA 1 Year 2 Years
PhD 3 Years 5-7 Years

What’s Missing?

A question often asked is if a UK degree only takes three years, what are they cutting out? The simple answer is not much, if you discount electives. In the US the emphasis on education is getting a wide range of knowledge of a variety of different subjects. In the UK students have a choice of either single honours or joint honours programs. Single honours are self-explanatory, the student chooses one specific area of study and concentrates solely on that, the focus allowing a greater depth of understanding. Joint honours combine areas of study (for example Medieval and Modern Languages) giving students an opportunity to build a degree around what suits them, yet retaining that depth of focus.

Teaching style is broken down into lectures and seminars with other students, tutorials with a course instructor and, often, continuous assessment throughout. Tutorials are regularly singled out as a defining factor in UK higher education as this direct communication with their tutor allows the student to discuss their work, highlighting where strengths are occurring and identifying where weaknesses can be worked on.

Financial Implications

Consider this example. A US student wishes to study Economics. This classroom degree would cost them around $46,113 a year at an Ivy League college. The same student studying in the UK would expect to pay only $22,000 a year. By completing their undergraduate degree in three years, rather than four, the US student would pay just $66,000 in total, as opposed to $184,452 in the US.

Thinking of the future

Richard Everitt, Deputy Director of the British Council in the USA confirms that a UK degree can put students in a strong position when returning to the US to seek employment, and may even act as a deciding factor between themselves and other job applicants.

Getting back to the original report published by Google, they noted the most searched for subject by US students looking to study in London is business and finance, with our capital a magnet for students wishing to learn. An extra bonus is the Leaders of the Future Programme, a scheme where British business leaders mentor US students while they study in the UK. In a previous blog, we highlighted research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that showed how international students who studied in the UK usually earn more after graduation than those who have studied in their countries of origin. Whatever the reason US students continue to have their sights set on the UK – in 2012/13 there were 22,435 North Americans at higher education institutions in the UK – as a trend it looks like it will continue for a long while yet.