The United Kingdom is a sovereign state situated west of continental Europe; its total area is 244,820 square kilometres. It comprises four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. with a land border (with the Republic of Ireland); the rest of the state is surrounded by bodies of water (the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Irish Sea. The English Channel separates the U.K.’s southern coastline from France. The United Kingdom is renowned for its level plains and rolling green countryside. These predominate in the south and the east, whereas to the north and the west, the landscape includes rugged hills and low mountains. The capital is the most burning and largely growing city London.
With its temperate climate, and one that is remarkably varied due to all the water surrounding the area – conditions can change greatly from one day to the next. Scotland in the north tends to be cooler than England, while Wales is generally wetter with more cloud cover. Temperatures generally range from around 0º Celcius in winter to 32º Celcius in summer. In all parts of the U.K., waterproof jackets should be part of the wardrobe.
History and Population
The U.K. has had a tumultuous history. In early times, the region’s predominantly Celtic people were invaded and influenced by a range of different nationalities, including Romans, Norsemen, Vikings, Saxons, and Normans. While the U.K. was for a long time a major coloniser (i.e., during the time of the British Empire), exporting its culture, values, and the English language around the world, it is now increasingly a nation of immigrants, with a diverse mix of European, Asian, and African nationalities influencing the culture as a whole. At the same time, British values continue to find voice around the world in such institutions as the Commonwealth, and to varying extents in the systems and structures of the countries of the former British Empire. The current population of the U.K. is around 62 million. England is the most densely populated (approximately 52 million), with the majority of people living in the south east; Scotland’s population is around 6 million; Wales is about 3 million; and Northern Ireland is just under 2 million. English is the main language, but many other languages are also spoken due to immigration.
Society and Culture
The development and formation of the United Kingdom has occurred in a way that the cultures of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland overlap, yet still have their own diverse and clearly distinctive features. For more information on the distinct cultures, please check out the “More information” section of web links at the end of the U.K. write-up. The average age is just over 39. The trend is for younger people to study for longer and for older people to spend more time in retirement. So the time spent in employment during a person’s lifetime has been reduced. Increased life expectancy and working women have also contributed to this trend.
A member of the G7 and G20 groups, the U.K. economy is the sixth largest in the world by purchasing power – and among the top three in Europe. It was historically the lead nation in becoming industrialised, and London remains one of the world’s main financial centres, contributing to the U.K.’s very globalised outlook. Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, contribute by far the largest proportion of GDP, with industry and manufacturing becoming increasingly less important (as in most affluent nations). While it accounts for a relatively small proportion of GDP, the agricultural industry in the U.K. is highly intensive and efficient, producing roughly 60% of food needs but employing less than 2% of the labour force. While it has now joined the EU, the U.K. has stayed out of the European Economic Monetary Union, so the currency remains the Pound Sterling.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy/parliamentary democracy, and it is proud of its establishment of the Westminster system of government and British common law, which have since been applied in many different countries in the world. The U.K. was the foundation member of the Commonwealth and remains its flagship country today. A founding member of NATO, the U.K. is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The government of England is still solely regulated by the U.K. parliament. Since Devolution in 1999, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own legislative bodies and more independent authority in governing their own countries. The chief of state in the U.K. is the Queen, and the prime minister is the head of parliament. England, Scotland, and Wales have regional county councils responsible for local government matters and the large cities (especially London) also have councils (burroughs) that are responsible for local government.
Living Conditions and Cost of Living
In the U.K., the cost of living can vary considerably depending upon location. Living costs can range from £120–£240 (estimated standard in approx.) a week depending on accommodation. London is the most expensive area and can be up to 25% more than in other places in the U.K. Fees for overseas students studying in the U.K. can range from £4,000–£18,000 a year depending on the institution, the level, and the type of course.
Further education fees are generally slightly lower than higher education fees. Students from EU countries can receive National Health System (NHS) benefits while studying in the U.K., and may also be entitled to some financial or other forms of assistance. Non-EU students may be eligible for some health benefits under the NHS. The U.K. lifestyle provides opportunities to experience a wide range of live theatre, museums, art The U.K. lifestyle provides opportunities to experience a wide range of live theatre, museums, art galleries, historical towns and buildings. Travel is available to most parts of the U.K. via train and/or bus and the U.K. abounds in bed and breakfast accommodation as well as backpacker hostels.
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