25th April 2022
Key differences between Scottish & English Universities
By Patricia Moores

Key differences between Scottish & English Universities.

While the names of some Scottish universities may be familiar, the opportunities they offer students remain somewhat of a mystery even to those working in international higher education.

At the recent international student university fair, Karen Robley and Charlotte Richardson from the universities of Strathclyde and Stirling, respectively, were asked to explain more about the Scottish higher education system and how it differs profoundly from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The features of the Scottish education system Richardson and Robley highlighted in their presentation are very relevant to a changing world where a range of skills are needed to thrive and where most young people graduating today will change careers perhaps six times throughout their lives (www.ecmcgroup.org/news/group/generation-z-career-plans-and-expectations).

So, a higher education system that encourages the development of a broad range of skills and competencies within a four- rather than three-year model is worth a deeper dive.

But first, a bit of background. There are 19 universities in Scotland, including some of the oldest and most reputable in the world: St Andrews and Edinburgh have a combined age of over 1,000 years.

Scotland’s education heritage is also hard to argue with as it was the first country in the world to provide universal education early in the 17th century (www.scotland.com/culture/education).

The 19 universities in Scotland break down into three main types:

The ancient: St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The modern (institutions that relatively recently acquired university status): Abertay and Robert Gordon.

Plate glass (those given university status in the 1960s, offering a mix of traditional degrees and degrees related to industry): Strathclyde and Stirling.

Typically a Scottish degree will be configured as follows:

In year one, a student will select a major subject to study alongside up to five others which may or may not be in the same faculty as their major.

In year two, the major subject is progressed alongside the study of two to four other subjects.

In year three, one to three subjects are progressed and sometimes, this year is studied abroad.

In year four, up to three subjects can still be studied including a dissertation or research project. The degree awarded can be a single or joint honors.

At Strathclyde, a BA business studies degree would typically include four subjects in year one, two principal (major) subjects plus a minor subject in years two and three followed by a single or joint honors degree awarded at the end of year four.

What does this mean in practice?

“The flexible four-year nature of Scottish degrees enables students to add breadth and depth to their university experience,” said Richardson. “Allowing students to tailor a degree in line with their interests or discover new passions along the journey, the four-year system allows students to accumulate many attractive skills and experiences across a range of subjects, making them more employable in an ever-increasing hybrid workforce.”

Certainly, the breadth of skills a Scottish graduate can offer an employer seems to be backed up by a study that says 84 percent of establishments that recruited a Scottish graduate found they were “well prepared for work” (www.scotland.org/live-in-scotland/school-systems).

Statistics from the Eramus program also show that Scotland leads the way in regard to supporting study abroad courses as part of students’ degrees.

Two of the top three UK universities sending pupils abroad are Scottish: Edinburgh and Glasgow (ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/factsheets/factsheet-uk-2019-en.html).

Also, this commitment to international student exchange and collaboration is backed up by the extensive number of partnerships Scottish universities typically have.

For example, Stirling has over 70 partnerships with universities across four continents including partnerships in Japan, America, Hong Kong, Australia and the European Union.

Robley said: “The year abroad offers students the opportunity to really push themselves out of their comfort zone and experience different cultures and perspectives. Not only does it expand a student’s personal perspective but it can also offer a variety of employment opportunities.

“Studying abroad shows employers that the student can adapt quickly to change, be a good problem solver and understand different cultures which can be imperative within a globally-recognized organization.

“Last, but by no means least, studying abroad can create friends for life from all around the globe.”

The breadth of degree, the recognized opportunity to study overseas, the reputation of its education system and the wealth of universities it offers makes Scotland definitely worth a look and this article is written by someone from England!


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