Education System

The world demands such place where worldly exception is achieved. England has approximately one-and-a-half million full and part-time students studying in higher education. The education system in the U.K. (except for Scotland) comprises four main sectors: primary, secondary, further education, and higher education. Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 16 (inclusive). Students ordinarily attend primary until they are 11 years old and secondary until they are 16. They may then continue their secondary studies for a further two years (sixth form), leading most typically to an A-level qualification, although other qualifications and courses exist, including the BTEC and the International Baccalaureate.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education monitors and assesses standards across the range of qualifications offered. Further Education (FE) focuses on development of business and work skills and encourages ongoing lifelong learning and a skilled, efficient and productive workforce in England. The Learning and Skills Council and associated bodies formulate policy and administer further education.

The Education and Skills Act 2008 raised the leaving age for compulsory education to 18. Stateprovided schools are free of charge to students, and there is also a tradition of independent schooling, but parents may choose to educate their children by any suitable means. Higher education typically begins with a three-year bachelor’s degree. Post-graduate degrees include master’s degrees (usually one year and/or research) and PhDs (at least three years). Universities require a royal charter in order to issue degrees, and the state finances all but one with low fee-levels for students. While the four countries of the U.K. have differing approaches to vocational education and training (VET), the training and qualifications are interchangeable and of the same standard. Three of the countries (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) share a common system of external qualifications within the National Qualifications Framework. There are separate bodies within each country responsible for regulating these qualifications.

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, higher education bodies are independent, self-governing institutions active in teaching, research, and scholarship. The state, not the institution, issues degrees and higher education qualifications. In Wales, the National Assembly is responsible for the broad direction of policy for further education through the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning (DELLS). There are 12 universities and 25 further education colleges and institutions in Wales. English-language programmes are offered within many of these and access to free language support is available at all Wales’ institutions. Over 8,000 international students currently study in Wales, with about 10% of these from non-European Union (EU) countries. Most of the universities are located fairly close to the southern and western coasts.

Education in Scotland

 The Scottish system of education is quite distinct from the education systems of the rest of the U.K. From 1999, it has had its own legislative framework, curriculum framework, and qualifications system. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for the whole system and has established several agencies for education development. For example, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is responsible for issuing all qualifications. Scotland has one main university system: Scotland University, under which all of the individual universities operate. Universities are located in all of the major cities of the country. Higher education courses in Scotland are usually one year longer than in other countries of the U.K. Emphasis is placed on breadth in a wide usually one year longer than in other countries of the U.K. Emphasis is placed on breadth in a wide range of specialised subjects. Scotland prides itself on the standard of education provided and flexibility allowed in selecting subjects within a course. The Scottish approach is attractive to many students, as they are more likely to be able to change mid-stream in their studies.

Specific Information to International Students

The U.K. ranks second to the U.S. in international students’ preferences for study destinations. Since the 1999 launch of the Prime Minister’s Initiative (PMI), the U.K. has focussed on providing more international student places in further and higher education. The U.K. has numerous further and higher education institutions for the international student to consider, and English-language courses are readily available throughout the four countries.

Visa applications for the four countries composing the United Kingdom go to the U.K. Border Agency. Students from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland do not need a visa to study in the U.K. However, they need to meet the entry requirements of the course they wish to undertake within further and/or higher education, including English-language level requirements (e.g., IELTS). International students from outside the EEA must apply for a Tier 4 Points Based System Visa. They can apply for a student visa through the Visa Application Centres in other countries (See www.visas.gov.uk). Non-EEA visa regulations are subject to ongoing review, so the student counsellor should make sure to check for the most current rules; but as of this writing, these are the following types of student visa (source: UKBA website, listed below in links).

Tier 4 (Child) Student: Students can apply for this visa if they are between four and 17. If they are between 4 and 15, they must be coming to the U.K. to study at an independent fee-paying school. Child Visitor: Students can apply as child visitors if they are 17 or younger and want to study in the U.K. for up to six months. Students with this visa cannot switch and apply for a Tier 4 (Child) student visa while in the U.K.; they would have to apply for it from their home country. Tier 4 (General) Student: For students coming to the U.K. for their post-16 education.Student Visitor: Students must be 18 or older, want to study in the U.K. for up to six months, and not want to work while studying. Students with this visa cannot switch to a Tier 4 (General) student visa in the U.K.; they would have to apply for it from their home country. Prospective Student: For students coming to the U.K. to help them decide which course to study, or for those who plan to start a course of study within six months. Students under this category will be able to switch and apply for a Tier 4 (General) or Tier 4 (Child) student visa while in the U.K. Once approved, a visa is issued for the length of the course of study. Students may receive a visa for both an English-language and a Level 3 (further education) or Level 4 (higher education) course. Some student visas permit work while studying in the U.K.

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