Study abroad: How does the UK education system work

The UK has a long-storied tradition in excellent higher education. Since around a quarter of UK universities are among the most reputed and highest ranking in the world, the United Kingdom manages to attract nearly half a million international students each year.

By pursuing your higher studies in the UK, you will not only achieve world-class education, you will also get to know more about the unique British culture, and perfect your English language and skills. One of the most cosmopolitan places on earth, you will meet all kinds of people and have an enriching study experience in the country!

The program formats in the UK universities range from short courses, certificates, and diplomas, to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. British study programmes are primarily known for great flexibility. Students may also select career-centered study programmes. Intensive academic programmes are also available for students who want fewer years of study. Some graduate degree programs are less than a year long.

The primary responsibility of imparting education in the UK is delegated to the four regions
namely — England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. All the four constituent countries have different forms of education systems, qualifications and individual laws/regulations. The major differences can be found in general and secondary education, resulting in each region having its own credit frameworks and qualifications.

Video: HURRAY's IELTS Training Helps Subin Get Into Ireland's Griffith College


Study levels                                                                                                                         

The education system in the UK consists of mainly four stages that include:

Primary education

Secondary education

Further education           

Higher education           

Qualifications framework           

A qualification framework is a principal national reference point that maintains academic standards in the higher education sect in any country. Two parallel frameworks run for higher education qualifications of UK degree-awarding bodies: 

The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of Degree Awarding Bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ)

The Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions in Scotland (FQHEIS)

Around 160 universities and colleges are allowed to award degrees in the UK.

Quality Assurance System

The unique feature of education system in the UK is its Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). It is an independent body that has been set up to assess and compare universities and colleges in the country through regular audits and reviews in all the four nations of the UK – England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It also identifies the best education practices and regularly provides feedback for areas of improvement. This ensures that the students have access to the best quality of education. All review reports are public, and can be accessed on the QAA website. However, do note that private institutions are not subjected to assessment by QAA.

What does higher education typically mean in the UK?

Higher education in the UK usually refers to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. As an international student, you may also transition to university-level studies via pathway programs that generally include English language courses and foundation courses.

Undergraduate courses

Students who are fresh out of school will find that undergraduate courses in the UK are designed to help them get exposure to a whole new world of skills and expertise, besides providing a thorough understanding of a subject or area of interest. The UK also offers a variety of courses in humanities, social science, art, design, business, technology, science and more!

 Postgraduate studies        

Postgraduate courses are more specific and involve in-depth study. Indian students, who have taken a break from work in order to pursue their masters, can expect to re-join the dynamics of the workplace faster than their counterparts pursuing masters in other countries due to shorter duration of courses. There are a wide range of courses to choose from, including niche courses that are highly sought-after in the industry.

What are Sandwich Programs?           

In the UK most undergraduate degree programs take three years to complete. However, the sandwich courses are increasing in popularity among students and is four years in duration, involving a year in the work place (normally the third year).

What are Pathway Programs?   
In the UK most undergraduate degree programs take three years to complete. However, the sandwich courses are increasing in popularity among students and is four years in duration involving a year in the work place (normally the third year). Since nothing beats exposure to the real-world and hands-on work experience, universities make sure that students are given an opportunity to gauge where their interests lie and pursue what is most suitable for them. Students can also use the work experience they gain to get better employment opportunities upon completion of their courses.

Indian students who are worried about their English language skills and acumen can sign up for pathway programs in the UK. These are preparatory courses that provide the extra edge with study skills, academic foundation and English language competency that is required to study at a UK university. Pathway programs can help students transition into university-level studies in the country and help strengthen their language skills as well. These are offered by both universities and private organizations to help students who need extra assistance with English language to gain admission.

Wish to gain more in-depth insights into studying in the UK and Ireland? Connect with HURRAY’s overseas education counselling team at

HURRAY Info corner: upcoming intakes in UK universities

Unlike a single intake in Indian universities, colleges and universities in the UK have two admission cycles that are known as intakes. Intakes may also be referred to as ‘terms’ in some parts of the country. The three intakes available in the UK are:

Intakes may also be referred to as ‘terms’ in some parts of the country

Term 1:  September to December

Term 2: January to April

Summer: April to June

Which intake is best suited for Indian students?

While September intake is the more viable option for Indian students, January and April intakes are equally good for certain programs and subjects. It’s always better to slow down and consider your readiness before you start your application process.

We help and guide our students from start to finish and that involves helping students choose the right intake option as well. We help students take informed decisions by considering all factors that influence a candidate’s success in a foreign country like the availability of the preferred program, academic records, entrance test scores, acceptance rates and job opportunities.

Book a free counselling session with our experienced counsellors at HURRAY who can advise you on available intakes, course selection, application submission, and visa procedure. You can connect with us at

Reach Out