Higher Education in the United Kingdom


Education System

The UK has been welcoming international students to their shores for generations. There are more than half a million international students studying in the UK at any one time. They have long experience of looking after international students’ needs, and will give students support from the moment of application and throughout their time in the UK.

UK qualifications are recognised and respected throughout the world. A UK qualification is a solid foundation for building the future, boosting career prospects and providing an experience valued by employers worldwide.

The UK is at the forefront of scientific and creative innovation. Students in UK learn alongside some of the world’s top intellectual achievers – people who have developed original knowledge in their fields – in an environment of vibrant creativity.

A UK education incorporates innovative approaches and exciting new fields of study. Ambitious achievers who are seeking a superior education choose to find it in the UK because UK education is constantly evolving while retaining the best of its prestigious 800-year heritage in education.

International Standard & Quality

In the past 50 years, more than 40% of the world’s patents have been for British inventions. Universities in the UK have produced more than 70 Nobel Prize winners for science, and continue to shape the world of tomorrow. In recent years, for example, UK university research has yielded the World Wide Web, Dolly the sheep, and many other significant breakthroughs.

The UK leads the world in developing quality standards and performance measures. The extensive, sophisticated system of quality assurance means that the chosen course and institution are closely monitored to ensure high standards. All nationally recognised qualifications offered in the UK are subject to strict quality standards.

Skills for the Global Market

In an increasingly globalised world economy, people need special skills and qualities to succeed. Employers want employees who can think effectively, creatively and for themselves. This is an essential part of the UK learning experience. Institutions use a variety of teaching and assessment methods to encourage independent thinking as well as mastery of the subject. At both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, students are encouraged to read widely, to question and analyse what they have read, and to discuss openly their own ideas in seminars and tutorials.

English has been generally accepted as the language of business, science, IT and the internet around the world. Learning English in the UK allows students to immerse themselves in the language, to live and think in English.


Students will find the experience of having studied in the UK enriching and not just from the education aspect. The UK is an international and cosmopolitan country to live in. Many thousands of families from around the world have made the UK their home, creating a richly diverse, open-minded, multicultural society. All of the world’s major religions are represented in the UK, and international foods are widely available. This cosmopolitan atmosphere makes it easy to settle down as an international student.

The country is also an ideal base for travels. Students get four countries in one: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each has its own distinctive history, landscape and modern culture. And, because they’re all within easy reach of one another, they’re easy to explore. Furthermore, it’s just as easy to travel around Europe as the UK is the gateway to the rest of Europe – an advantage over other English-speaking study destinations.


The UK education system is generally similar to the Malaysia system. It adopts a 6-5-2 education system, which is 6 years of primary education, 5 years of secondary education and 2 years of pre-university education. Undergraduate courses usually range in length from 3 years (4 for Scottish degrees) for most subjects to 5 years for medicine, veterinary science, dentistry and architecture.  The Malaysian SPM and STPM are equivalent to the UK’s GCSEs and ‘A’ Levels respectively. Therefore, Malaysian students will find it easy to adapt to the UK education system.

Education in the UK is compulsory for everyone between the ages of five and sixteen, and is provided by two kinds of schools: state-funded schools and independent (fee-charging) schools. The UK has two distinct systems of courses and qualifications: one for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and one for Scotland, each compatible with the other.

Secondary Education (including GCSEs & equivalents)

All UK secondary schools, both state and independent, teach pupils at least until the age of sixteen and prepare them for GCSEs or equivalent qualifications. Significant numbers of international students enter the UK secondary education system when they are either eleven or thirteen. Many attend independent boarding schools.

Post-sixteen Education (including ‘A’ levels & equivalents)

After completing compulsory education at the age of sixteen, students may legally leave school and start work. Most, however, study ‘A’ levels or equivalent qualifications as sixth-form students in a school, sixth-form college or college of further education. International students often enter the education system at this point, e.g. taking an ‘A’ level course in preparation for further or higher education in the UK. Sixth-formers usually finish their post-secondary education at the age of eighteen with ‘A’ levels or equivalent qualifications, then go on to study at either further or higher level of education.

Further Education (FE)

This is the term used to describe education and training that take place after the school-leaving age of sixteen. Over 600 FE colleges, both state-funded and independent, offer a very wide range of programmes, including English language courses, some GCSEs, ‘A’ levels and other equivalents, career-based courses, access courses and some degree courses.

  • Academic courses: which help you prepare for higher education (e.g. A-levels and the International Baccalaureate) They aim to develop your analytical skills, critical thinking and knowledge
  • Vocational courses: which are career-focused and give professional training (e.g. BTECs and NVQs). They give you the skills and qualifications needed for a successful career.

Higher Education (HE)

This is the term used to describe the education and training at universities, colleges and institutes offering studies at degree and higher degree levels. The UK has over a hundred universities and higher education colleges offering a wide range of courses, including:

  • Undergraduate qualifications: which include bachelors’ degrees, foundation degrees, HNDs
  • Postgraduate qualifications: which include masters’ degrees, PhDs and MBAs. This level is for students who have already completed their undergraduate studies, and want to gain a higher qualification.


Academic Requirements

UK institutions are usually prepared to consider equivalent overseas qualifications from students applying for admission to UK institutions of higher education. Many are very familiar with Malaysian qualifications, such as the SPM, STPM, UEC, Matriculation and various foundation and diploma programmes offered in the country.

Entry requirements details can be obtained from the institution’s website or directly from the institution. The level of these requirements varies from course to course and from institution to institution.

If an overseas student’s qualifications do not meet the entrance requirements demanded by a UK institution for entry to a particular degree programme, then the student may wish to consider taking a bridging course which, if completed successfully, would provide an alternative access route to the chosen courses. Information on the appropriate bridging course is available from the institutions themselves.

Many UK institutions may also require their prospective students to sit for specific entrance exams or admissions tests, so, students are advised to check with the admissions offices of the institutions.

English Language Requirements

In addition to academic requirements, students are required to produce proof of their English Language proficiency such as the International English Language Testing Service test (IELTS). They must have a good command of written and spoken English. Each institution will decide on the standard required for each of its courses.


Tuition Fees

Below is a general guide on average course fees:

Course            Estimated Cost
English language courses £100 – £500/week
Boarding schools & colleges £20,000 – £30,000/year
Career-based courses £9,000 – £12,000/year
Undergraduate degrees £8,000 – £36,000/year
Postgraduate Masters and MBAs £10,000 – £38,000/year

Living Costs

For living costs, students studying at the undergraduate level should budget for a nine-month academic year. For postgraduate taught and PhD studies, students should budget for a 12-month academic year. Average living costs (covering accommodation, food, clothing, books, entertainment and travel) for an international student are £1,265 per month in London or £1,015 per month elsewhere.


UK towns and cities have long experience of providing homes for students, and there are many inexpensive, comfortable and safe places to live. For those coming to the UK for the first time, accommodation provided by the school, college or university might be the most suitable choice. This is an option taken up by the majority of international students in the UK.

Alternatively, students may also choose to stay at privately-owned accommodation or a homestay with a British family to get the full British cultural experience. Costs of these accommodations differ and students should check with the respective providers before signing a contract.

Value for Money

Most UK degrees take only three years and postgraduate Master’s courses only one year – compared with four years and two years in most other countries. This means that students will save a great deal on both tuition fees and living costs – one will also be able to start working and earn money sooner. UK degree courses are shorter because they are more intensive, and therefore more efficient in terms of time and money.

There are many benefits available that can make the day-to-day life in the UK more affordable, too. Chief among them is the level of discounts negotiated by the National Union of Students. Students can save up to 50% on everything from books to entertainment.

Students can take advantage of the National Health Service (NHS) treatment, as well as reduced-cost medicines, dental treatment and eye tests. More information about these can be obtained from the  Study UK website at https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org/


Applications for first degree courses and higher national diplomas (HNDs) can be made centrally through Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) or directly to the institutions. For schools, career-based training and other courses, such as master degrees, one can check the institution’s website for online application forms.

English Language Courses

Some English language courses can start at any time of the year and others have precise starting dates. To apply for an English language course, students should contact the school. To search for a British Council accredited English language centre, student can visit http://www.englishuk.com/

School Level Courses, GCSEs, A-levels, Scottish Highers & Equivalents

Some independent schools have formal application procedures and prefer pupils to apply one year in advance before admission date.  Other schools are more informal and welcome applications at any time. Most schools start in September, although other dates can be arranged. Applications can be made directly to the schools. Many of these schools will also require their pupils to sit for an entrance exam.

Undergraduate Programmes

All UK universities and most colleges of higher education are members of Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Students who are interested to apply to study at UK institutions should apply via UCAS at https://www.ucas.com/. For a full-time undergraduate course, students may apply up to a maximum of five courses in one application. If students are applying to do medicine, dentistry or veterinary sciences/medicine, they may apply to only four institutions.

Important Dates to Note

1 Sept Applications open
15 Oct Closing date for applications to courses in medicine, dentistry or veterinary sciences/ medicine and to Oxford and Cambridge
15 Jan Closing date for route A art and design applications
1 Jan-8 Mar Application period for route B art and design applications
30 June Closing date for international students (unless one is applying to Oxford or

Cambridge or for medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine/science or Route

B art and design courses).

Postgraduate Programmes & MBAs

For postgraduate studies, students should apply directly to the university they are interested in. Details of the application procedure will be available from their selected institution. Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses usually require a British undergraduate degree or equivalent, or a professional qualification. Most MBA courses may also require two or three years’ management experience.


Malaysians over the age of 16 planning to study in the UK are required to apply for a Tier 4 (General) before travelling to the UK.  This applies to both students and their dependents. If one is under 16, one will need to apply for a Tier 4 (Child) student visa. Whether one is under or over the age of 16, one must study at a school, college or university which has been approved by the UK Visas and Immigration. For more information on how to apply, please refer to http://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/malaysia/


Students on a Tier 4 (General) student visa may be allowed to work no more than 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during vacations. Students can work longer if work placement is an essential part of the course e.g. sandwich course or internship. Students under the age of 16 or on a short term study visa are prohibited to work while they are in the UK.


Many UK institutions offer scholarships to deserving Malaysian students who are interested to study in the UK. Different institutions would have different requirements and application procedures, thus, students are advised to check with the institutions themselves on these scholarships. More information on scholarships can be found here – https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org/options/scholarships-financial-support

Some postgraduate scholarship opportunities include:


The support students get from UK institutions is remarkable. Many institutions arrange for students to be collected from the airport and offer guaranteed accommodation for the first year. They will provide a dedicated international office, international student societies, planned social activities, academic support, counsellors and advisers.


Information on Study UK: https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org/

Universities & Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS): www.ucas.com,

Recognised UK Degrees: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/recognised-uk-degrees

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education: www.qaa.ac.uk

British Accreditation Council: www.the-bac.org,

British Council

Ground Floor, West Block
Wisma Selangor Dredging
142C, Jalan Ampang
50450 Kuala Lumpur,
Email: studyuk.malaysia@britishcouncil.org


Updated by:
Ms Wee Hui Bieh, AFMSA, Nov. 2018

Information verified by:
British Council, Kuala Lumpur.

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