The UK education systems

The education systems of England, Wales and Northern Ireland remain very similar and share a common framework. The Scottish system is structured differently and offers distinct awards.

More information about the UK’s education system can be found below:

The following legislation governs higher education in the UK, including degree awarding powers, use of academic degree titles and regulation:

Further and Higher Education Act (1992)

Further Education and Training Act (2007)

Higher Education and Research Act (2017)

Higher education institutions include Recognised bodies and Listed bodies. A Recognised body is an institution which can offer programmes leading towards a recognised UK degree and confer the final degree. A Listed body, on the other hand, is an institution which can offer a programme leading towards a recognised UK degree, but which cannot confer the final degree. A Listed body must cooperate with a Recognised body; only the Recognised body may issue the final certificate.

Higher education has its own framework, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), which is specific to England, Wales and Northern Ireland and spans levels 4-8. It aligns with levels 4-8 of both the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for England and Northern Ireland and the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW). In Scotland, the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) covers 12 levels and encompasses both higher education and non-higher education awards.

The three cycles of higher education degree culminate in a Bachelor degree, Master’s degree and Doctorate, respectively. Many other awards feature on the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), but are less commonly awarded. These include: Certificate of Higher Education, Higher National Certificate, Diploma of Higher Education, Foundation degree, Higher National Diploma, Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Postgraduate Certificate and Postgraduate Diploma. Higher education institutions may confer joint degrees with overseas institutions. Where the degree is conferred by a UK Recognised body, it is considered a recognised UK degree.

There is no nationally operated credit transfer system in the UK or a body with overarching responsibility for credit recognition and transfer opportunities.

Across the UK, the national Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) is used by many higher education institutions, most prominently by the Open University (OU).

In Scotland, credit is incorporated into the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). A qualification / learning programme must be capable of being allocated an SCQF level and SCQF credit points in order that it can be included on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is also widely referred to by UK higher education institutions in transcripts where the European Diploma Supplement or Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) is produced.

Bachelor (Honours) degree


Bachelor degrees with Honours are classified as follows (in descending order of rank):

Class I (First)

Class II Division I (Upper second)

Class II Division II (Lower second)

Class III (Third)


Individual courses are usually graded on a percentage scale, with a pass mark of 40%. Grading systems may vary between institutions.


Master's degree


Master's degrees are awarded with Distinction, Merit or Pass. Individual courses are usually graded on a percentage scale, often with a pass mark of 50%. Grading systems may vary between institutions.


Doctorate

Doctorates are not given a classification or a grade.

Regulation of higher education is an area of devolved responsibility in the UK, so England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have different regulatory bodies and frameworks.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) performs quality and standards assessment functions to support the regulatory process across the UK.

There is no list of all recognised / accredited programmes in the UK.

Higher education institutions may issue a Diploma Supplement or Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).

UK universities are autonomous and set their own admission requirements.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, students are normally expected to study three subjects at A level and for certain courses specific subjects and grades may be required. However, other awards at level 3 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) may also be accepted for entrance to higher education courses, for example the BTEC National Extended Diploma. In Scotland, entry is based on four or five Highers. For certain courses specific subjects and grades may be required. Students may also take Advanced Highers.

Many UK universities offer degree programmes to students outside of the UK through transnational education arrangements, including international branch campuses, joint degrees, double / dual degrees, franchising, validation and distance learning. A number of overseas institutions also offer higher education programmes in the UK. In both cases, where the degree is awarded by a UK Recognised body, it is considered a recognised UK degree.

The Office for Students (OfS) maintains the Register of registered higher education providers in England. Lists of Recognised bodies and Listed bodies are published in Recognised bodies Orders and Listed bodies Orders for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales every few years.





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