§ Keys to the United Kingdom

Dear Students,

Below are some of the insights, resources, and electronic materials that were gleaned from a tour of many institutions of higher education in Britain in the summer of 2002. The report was written to an audience of faculty and administrative personnel at universities across the US. However, a clever student will find much here that is readily available to be utilized without the entire report being re-designed for a student audience. Please enjoy and contact me if I can be of help to you in your search for the right British graduate program.




Understanding the General Structure of Postgraduate Education

Throughout our visit to England and Scotland, university officials affirmed that a recent shift had taken place; prestigious scholarship applications seem to be less frequently directed toward second Bachelor of Arts degrees and more often toward graduate programs. Unless a student has a compelling reason to broaden or change his or her major field of study, many British academics view the taught Master’s degree a better use of the student’s energies and focus. [1] The increase in numbers of taught Master’s degrees is encouraging news for many NAFA members, who see this option as providing a much less stressful transition into graduate study than the direct step into a research degree from the US undergraduate structure. For these and other reasons, this report emphasizes the graduate school experience, resources, and structures (although some undergraduate resources are listed herein).

Within the graduate education conversation, one of the first issues advisers and students must consider is the distinction made between “research programs” (which are offered at both the Master’s and Doctorate level) and “taught courses of study” (which are offered only at the Master’s degree level). For example, student may choose a one year Master of Arts degree in either a research or taught program at Durham University, but an MPhil there could possibly take two years to complete, depending on the program. Some MPhil degrees at Durham contain both taught components and a thesis; others rely solely on research. Confused? It is easy to be.

A list of the degrees offered by the universities visited on the NAFA 2002 trip is attached. (See Appendix A.) No matter which degree titles a university uses, however, students will want to understand the following distinctions as they begin their search for the “course” that best fit their goals:

  • Some Master’s degrees are built largely on taught courses of study, culminating usually in a 10,000 – 20,000-word thesis (the British would say “dissertation”). These courses may last one or two years.
  • The research Master’s degree can be a one or two year course. A Masters by research culminates in a research paper of approximately 40,000 words.
  • Doctoral degrees (PhD or DPhil) will take three years minimum to complete and require much more research that culminates in the dissertation.

Electronic and Media Sources for Finding the Right Course of Study

With over 100 universities in the United Kingdom, a complex nomenclature for degrees, some hard-to-understand vocabulary (even if we speak the same language), [2] and a structure for undergraduate and graduate programs that differs significantly from the US system, students—even our most outstanding ones—face many challenges as they attempt to make sense of their options and find a good match between their academic interests and the courses of study offered within the English and Scottish universities. However, the resources available for the search are impressive, and the British Council’s Dr. Robert Monro, Education and Training Adviser, provided NAFA members an overview of the extensive assessment systems they and their students may use. [3]

Two Ratings Systems for Taught Courses of Study

(Undergraduate and Graduate)

The Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) Rating System. “A part of the audit [mandated by the Quality Assessment Agency] is a subject review called the Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA). A panel of faculty from other institutions is appointed by the QAA to conduct the review. As of 2001 all courses in all subjects had been reviewed. The results are helpful in evaluating the suitability of a taught course for a particular student, though those seeking research degrees would find the RAE more helpful” (Ledbetter, 14). [4] http://www.qaa.ac.uk/revreps/subjrev/intro.htm gives access to the TQA findings.

League Tables: Their Value and Limitation. “University League Tables are published by several newspapers in the UK, and function rather like the US News and World Report rankings in the US. Some of the tables are self-fulfilling and others show signs of circularity. They undeniably add value to highly rated institutions, however.

Predictably the tables are controversial; they can be useful if applied with thought” (Ledbetter, 15).

Strengths / Limitations of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)

(Graduate Study Only)

A Valuable Tool: “The Research Assessment Exercise is conducted by peer faculty on behalf of the funding councils. It occurs every five years, most recently in 2001. Quality in every subject area is independently assessed on a seven-point scale: 1, 2, 3b, 3a, 4, 5, and 5* (the highest). [6] Ratings determine funding allocations. . . . A 5* rating identifies a program more than half of whose staff are world-class and the rest nationally known; a 4 has all of the staff with at least a national reputation . . . . The RAE results can be accessed at http://www.hero.ac.uk/rae/ ” (Ledbetter, 14).

Two Cautionary Tales: Paula Goldsmid offers this advice on the Pomona website. “Most important: If you aspire to a research degree you must connect with someone who wants to supervise your project. Do not assume that all 5* departments will include your specialty or offer a degree for which you are qualified, so use the RAE as a first step and proceed from there to detailed information on university websites.” Mark Bauer concurs, reminding us that “RAE results are at least three years old and are at once too general and too focused on an assessment of faculty research to represent ‘the last word’ on any specific degree program or course of study. . . . Thus, the faculty in a 5* History department may do splendid research in many historical fields, but not in the specific area that fits a student’s interests. Similarly, key faculty in a 5* department may not be teaching or available to supervise research.”

Search Tool for Both Taught and Research Postgraduate Courses

The Prospects site at is www.prospects.ac.uk offers a search of 17, 550 postgraduate programs within the UK. Students should go to “Further Study” to begin. Dr. Monro alerts us to the multi-functional searches, saying “The web-site can be searched by Institution, by subject, or by key words. This allows you either to select where you would like to study and then see what they offer; or to select what you would like to study and see where it is available; or to search the database using a few key words to see what combination of locations and subjects are available.” [7] The keyword search is very useful and does not limit one to names of major subjects. The site offers this example: “[A] search for courses in the subject area Town and Country Planning at all institutions returns 121 courses, whereas a keyword search on Urban Regeneration returns 14 courses.”

Undergraduate and Graduate Assistance from the British Council

“Monro drew our attention to the newly redesigned British Council web site: http://www.educationuk.org , which is a great resource for students seeking to find the right course [of study]. They can enter key words, the type of course, the location of the university, etc., and generate a list of possibilities (randomly ordered). Clicking on an entry lets you view the details, with links to the TQA and the RAE rankings. . . . The same procedure can be followed for undergraduate or post-graduate programs” (Ledbetter, 15).

The British Council USA website is also valuable: http://www.britishcouncil-usa.org/home/index.shtml . It contains the same database as the UK version but with additional information for US students: http://www.studyintheuk.org or http://www.britishcouncilusa.org/learning/students/index.shtml

In December of 2001, Dr. Monro sent a document to NAFA entitled, “Finding the Right Postgraduate Course of Study in the UK.” It outlines a suggested series of steps to help students find the course of study that fits their field and enables them to review evaluations of those courses of study. (See Appendix C.)

Building a Network of Personal Contacts

Keeping the difficult balance between quantitative and qualitative sources is a clear message NAFA members heard during the trip. Mark Bauer speaks well to the need for such balance in a recent conversation we had via e-mail, “Research [into the rankings and assessment tools] not only helps make better matches but also makes the students stronger because they become more knowledgeable and self-aware candidates for funding. Nevertheless, Master’s programs can be of uneven quality at any university, and college choice (for students applying to graduate or second B. A. programs atCambridge or Oxford) adds another element of uncertainty. For these reasons, it is very important for students to use their networks to discover as much about the programs (and colleges) they are considering as possible.” Here then are a few reminders to balance against ratings.

Encourage Students to Contact the Faculty. Dr. Monro gives a hint in the handout referenced above that bears repeating here: “Having looked at all these sites you will probably have found one or more courses that will suit you. If you want more information about any of these, do not be afraid to e-mail or telephone the [faculty] member responsible for them, with specific questions you want answered. Most academics are only too happy to talk to prospective students about their courses and encourage them to join!” Others agree:

  • Dr. Gordon Johnson, President of Wolfson College Cambridge and Provost of the Gates Cambridge, would support that recommendation: “It is definitely advisable for the student to make preliminary contact with a potential PhD advisor” (Ledbetter, 23). For Master’s degrees questions, student inquiries may be directed to admissions@gradstudies.cam.ac.uk (Ledbetter, 26).
  • Mark Bauer adds, “Students should not be shy about making inquiries concerning particular programs, how they are structured, who is teaching or supervising research. . . . But students should beware of pestering with questions that are answered on department or program websites. They should be advised that any inquiry is also something of an audition, in that it will leave an impression (and an e-mail or paper record) about how suitable the student seems.”
  • Throughout the trip, UK administrators and faculty members offered us their cards and encouraged us to contact them or have our students do so. For example, at Oxford we were told jan.power@admin.ox.ac.uk can offer guidance on graduate programs—however, students “are urged to do their homework on the web” as well (Ledbetter, 20). We knew these programs had smart, professional people behind them; feeling free to contact individuals at British Council or any of the universities following the trip was one of the deeply appreciated outcomes.

Remind Students that their Own Professors Will Have Contacts and Suggestions. Paula Goldsmid has valuable information to this effect posted on the Pomona website: “Ask faculty in your field of interest what they know about leading departments and scholars in their subject in Britain, and whether anyone in their professional network can help you in your exploration of degree courses.” Students must also make contact with British visiting scholars or guest speakers who might suggest other networking possibilities.

Encourage Students to Be Creative in the Search to Find a Scholar Under Whom They Wish to Study. “If you are applying for a research degree program, do a literature search on your topic to find the specialists in Britain. Use the internet to see what their research centers, labs, and departments are doing currently. Contact the scholar directly, describing your background and your proposed project for graduate research, to inquire about the possibility of working under his or her supervision.” [8]

Help Students Develop Networks with Other Students. In an end-of-the-trip visit among NAFA members, one adviser who had visited with former students at various universities throughout our travels commented that students often didn’t realize how different study in the UK would turn out to be, compared to their US experiences or expectations. Thus, “It is extremely helpful for students to be able to talk with other students either currently enrolled or recently graduated from the programs they are considering. These students often have important tips for those who follow them. Often these contacts are made circuitously: referrals through friends of friends.”

Other “Ah-ha’s!”

The NAFA travelers met twice during the second week to reflect on the issues that had been most clearly etched in our minds. Some of the issues that seem most important to our understanding the UK system of graduate education and resources are listed below:

Understanding the “Old” and the “New” Universities. “Of the 100 or so [British] universities, all have an identical general mission. Small, legal structural differences distinguish two categories: the ‘old’ (pre-1992) and the ‘new’ (post 1992) universities. The Old Universities are universally research universities ranging in age from 40 – 800 years old. . . . In contrast the New Universities tend to be urban and large; they emphasize teaching but have pockets of research excellence. They were formed from former polytechnic institutes, and in 1992 were granted status as corporations by the higher education act of Parliament” (Ledbetter, 3). [9]

The Ever-closer Relationship among Foundations. In inspiring meetings with John Rowatt, Warden of Rhodes House, and Gordon Johnson, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust, it seemed clear that the foundations were striving to work together, not viewing themselves as competitors but rather as united in their commitment to ideals of academics, service, and leadership. John Rowatt reminded us there are plenty of top scholar-applicants from whom the Fulbright, Kennedy, Gates, Marshall, Rhodes and other foundations may choose.

The Wisdom of Looking Beyond London, Oxford, and Cambridge for the Right Course for the Marshall Applicant—and Some Helpful Websites for that Search. “Students must have thought about their selection of program and university. Many elect Oxford, and indeed many go there, but each year Oxford rejects several, usually because they have selected competitive courses such as International Relations, which are already full. In such cases placement is offered in the second-choice school. It is a distinct advantage to have found good reasons to study at schools other than the Big Three. To identify appropriate courses, use the web. Contact academics at the university; use e-mail to contact potential departments. . . . The Marshall website has many useful links: http://www.marshallscholarship.org/links.html and so does the graduate career website: www.prospects.ac.uk ”(Ledbetter, 6). [10]

The Differences in the English and the Scottish Systems of Higher Education. The English System (which includes Wales and Northern Ireland) is a highly specialized undergraduate program that is typically three years in duration. The Scottish-based undergraduate education (which they describe as a combination of tradition and innovation) is a four-year program and culminates in an undergraduate thesis. The Scottish system is structure more like the US system, with students taking a general education the first two years and beginning their specialization in the third year. Another major difference between “Ancient Universities” of Scotland and the “Old” institutions of England is that there is no collegiate system in Scottish schools.

The RAE Ranking System May Be Imperfect—Nevertheless. Universities find meaning in their scores and refer to their excellent ratings with understandable pride. The following items are not comprehensive overviews of programs, but are highlights from notes. I present nine of the eleven universities we visited, omitting only Oxford and Cambridge Universities because of their well-known, numerous strengths. These are listed only to make the point that RAE ratings have significant resonance in presentations of UK universities. For example,

  • The University of Westminster in London (a “new university”) told us it had earned “5s” in Law, Asian Studies, and Linguistics.
  • London School of Economics stated proudly that it had earned 5* in Accounting, Finance, Anthropology, Economics, International History, Law, and Philosophy—among others.
  • The Department of Anthropology and Sociology at School of Oriental and African Studies received a 5 in the 2001 RAE.
  • Imperial College says it is the premier technological institution in the world, with every research group a 5* (that is to say, internationally recognized).
  • Oxford Brookes (also a “new university”) takes special pride in its History department’s research 5* rating, noting that Oxford University had only a 5 in the same category. [11]
  • The University of York excels in English studies and Psychology at 5* level and describes its computer science department as “top in the UK.”
  • Six divisions of University of Durham received 5* (Applied Math, Chemistry, English, Geography, History and Law).
  • St. Andrews in Scotland presents proudly its International Security degree (with terrorism specialty and Al Qaeda studies), its English and Psychology programs, saying that all departments at the university were at least 4s, many were 5 and 5*.
  • The University of Edinburgh states on its graduate website, “During the most recent UK Research Assessment Exercise, the University of Edinburgh maintained its position as one of the foremost research universities in the United Kingdom.” The university is described by many as rivaling Cambridge in the biological sciences.

Finding Help through the United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs (UKCOSA). “[This] office [recently renamed The Council for International Education] provides assistance with immigration and other regulatory issues, guidance and sign posts for students to measure their progress, and advice line for students and staff. [This] website, www.ukcosa.org.uk includes 28 titles of useful manuals to guide students” (Ledbetter, 5). [12]

Locating Funding Beyond the Nationally Competitive Awards: The Overseas Research Scholarship. “The British Council is developing a scholarship data base, and the US version of their web site lists 50 – 200 scholarships. The Overseas Research Scholarship supports 1000 international students per year, paying the difference between the domestic and overseas tuition charge (about 6000 pounds sterling) for up to three years. You can use this award to extend a one-year Fulbright, for example” (Ledbetter, 6). [13] One NAFA member explains the importance of this information: “I learned that there are other scholarships for overseas students. . . . Actually, after one of my Gates applicants was turned down I encouraged him to apply to LSE, which he did, and he was accepted. I don’t know if he has gotten an ORS yet, but I definitely knew to tell him to apply, which I would not have otherwise.”

Two Fine Website Models that Present British Options Clearly. If you have not looked at Paula Goldsmid’s scholarship website at www.pomona.edu/adwr/fellowships/researchbritish.shtml you will want to do so very soon. It speaks directly to the students, giving them the best of everything we learned on the trip. Yale’s website http://www.yale.edu/iefp/acrobat/ResourcesUK%20(052303).doc provides a tremendously rich overview of the best materials gleaned from our trip and undoubtedly from other sources as well. Many of you, of course, have created terrific guideposts on the web for the enterprising students already. For those of us who have not yet utilized this resource fully, Pomona and Yale certainly give us fine models by which to refurbish our own.

“For all that has been—Thanks! To all that shall be—Yes!” [14]

Even though the dates of our trip coincided with both a Study Abroad Conference in the States that involved many British university personnel and many events celebrating the 50th anniversary, the Jubilee, of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, countless administrators and faculty members at the universities and the British Council (England and Scotland) extended themselves to us, some coming to meet us on holidays. We are grateful, indeed, to many British professionals in Washington, DC as well.

I am particularly indebted to David Chaundler, Bursar of Westminster School in London, for the magical evening tour he gave us of Westminster Abbey. John Harris of Christ Church, Oxford, spared no efforts or expense in welcoming us for evensong, a tour of the college (complete with tea), and dinner—an evening that captured for us the exhilaration of what it must feel like to be Harry Potter, or perhaps, since we also care about reality, what it must feel like for our scholar-students to walk the halls where the student William Gladstone, prime minister four times, had also walked, 150 years before.

The ideals of the Rhodes Scholarship and the new Rhodes-Mandela initiative, as presented to us at Rhodes House by John Rowatt, lifted our spirits and forged our resolve to send forth our best candidates, those who may be the future leaders in a needy world. And we give heart-felt appreciation again to the extra effort Gordon Johnson has invested in NAFA and in helping us understand the Gates Cambridge “scheme.” The evening provided at Wolfson College, Cambridge, will always be an unforgettable one, a touchstone of all we dream the academic life should be.

And for those of us who extended our trip to the North of England and Scotland, we will always owe Ann Brown a debt of thanks for creating a farewell party to end all farewell parties at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh.

Almost every one—guide, bus driver, academics, professional staff within the UK system—gave us a glimpse into British culture and education that enabled us to turn toward home with better understandings than we had brought with us. We returned to the US a bit heavier, too—not just from scones and cream but also from the Cambridge Lecture Lists, the prospectuses from many universities, the business cards, and the books we carried. Perhaps those we met learned something from us, too. Most of us sensed that many university officials had had no idea what fellowship advisers were or what our work might be. Now they do.

Thanks to the wonderful planning team (Ann, Suzanne, and Mary—what fun, what fun!), to Babs Baugh (friend and travel agent), and to all the NAFA fellow travelers. The weeks had many challenges in the planning and in the operational stages. Everyone was gracious about the high points and the low. I have to hope we all felt, at the end of the day, that the game had been worth the candle. Special thanks to my husband, James, the British historian who gave me the courage to see the project through.

The universities left an indelible impression on us. We saw firsthand that the house of learning in the United Kingdom is a serious one. The commitment to quality education remains central to all academic enterprises, despite great concerns about funding. Without question, our best and brightest students deserve every chance we can give them to study there.

Looking back at the summer of 2002 from the vantage point of a cozy chair by a winter fire, I am reviewing my life while sparks dance in the logs. I examine the flames, looking for my own glory day in college when I caught the golden ring, won the prize, received the international scholarship. It isn’t there. So in one sense the trip felt like double pleasure for me—I got an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the prize while garnering keys that may enable worthy students to unlock the doors of their dreams. The NAFA travelers offer those keys now, with all good wishes, to our amazing students and yours.

Elizabeth Vardaman

Baylor University

Appendix A: Nomenclature and Degrees

A quick glance at the chart below will show that there is little rhyme or reason to British degree nomenclature. What I have found most helpful is to tell students that the terminology varies from institution to institution and that they should not to be overly concerned about the names (just follow the terminology provided by the university prospectus). The important distinction they need to consider is between a taught degree and a research degree. I tell them that taught masters programs will usually have a thesis component as well as or in place of an exam, but that the research for these degrees grows out of their coursework and is usually limited to a 40-60,000 word dissertation. Students do not need to have a thesis topic established coming into a taught program; whereas for a research degree they should have a very clear idea of their topic. Students may also want to determine whether a particular taught degree (diploma or masters) might count toward a research degree (masters or doctorate), and they need to be sure of the duration of the particular degree program: 9 mo, 12 mo, 2yr, 3yr.

First Degrees:

BA 3yr England

MA 4yr Scotland

Postgraduate Degrees:

Diplomas/ 9mo (usually) (Usually taught component of masters w/o dissertation)


Masters Degrees:

Taught Masters:

MA 1yr Durham, LSE (in Area Studies), SOAS, Westminster

(often in Arts subjects)

MPhil 1yr (usually) Cambridge (may count toward requirements for PhD, MSc, or Mlitt)

LSE (taught component of PhD)

MPhil 2yr Oxford (largely in Arts/Humanities subjects)

BPhil 2yr Oxford (only in Philosophy, equivalent to MPhil in other subjects)

MSc 1yr Oxford (by coursework in largely science subjects),

LSE (9-12 mo.), SOAS, Durham, Westminster, Imperial

MBA Business


MTh Theology

MFA Fine Arts

Mmu Music

Research Masters:

MA 1yr Durham

MPhil 1-2yr Durham (yrs. depending on department)

MPhil 2yr LSE, SOAS, Westminster (may be first two years of PhD), Imperial

MPhil 1yr Cambridge (in sciences and medicine)

MSc 2yr Cambridge

MSc 1yr (min.) Oxford (research in sciences)

MSc 1yr Durham

MLitt 2yr Cambridge

MLitt 2yr Oxford (research in Arts and Social Studies subjects)

MRes 1yr York (in science and technology subjects), Imperial (in certain courses)

Doctorate Degrees:

PhD 3yr (min.) Cambridge, Durham, LES, SOAS, Westminster, Imperial

DPhil 3yr (min.) Oxford

(Compiled by Mark Bauer, Yale University.)

Appendix B: Glossary of British Education Terms

College means a residential unit within the university where students live, eat, and socialize. In some university structures, the college shares teaching responsibilities with the larger university. In others (such as Cambridge and Oxford), the college is responsible for undergraduate education in its entirety from admission through graduation, including formal instruction and student life activities. In Scotland, however, the word college most often refers only to the building, as in “New College” at University of Edinburgh, which signifies a particular building.

Course means “course of study”—that is, a whole program of study leading to a degree or a diploma. We might use the term “major area” interchangeably with it.

Diploma is often used to signify a postgraduate taught program that does not include a thesis (or the British would say, a dissertation). It is also used to describe a course of study that covers a practical rather than an intellectual skill — cookery, car maintenance, photography. For example, someone might take a post-graduate diploma in education (a practical course mostly of classroom skills), whereas a degree in education is usually three years and has a stronger intellectual component.

Dissertation and thesis are loosely overlapping terms that may in some settings be used interchangeably. However, generally, a dissertation is shorter than a thesis, which is usually expected to contain some original or research component. A one-term course might well be followed by a dissertation (a paper usually of 5,000 – 20,000 words); a Ph.D. is always examined by thesis.

Faculty is a department or a larger unit of administration.

League Tables are the media rankings (such as our US News and World Report rankings).

A module is a unit of instruction. We would use the word course in the US.

A scheme is a strategic plan—such as, “There is a host scheme for housing international students.” It is most often used to describe a funding source, such as “are you here on a Gates, ORS, or another scheme?”

Staff are the academic professors—as in the statement “Seventy-five percent of the staff at University of Edinburgh are in 5* research departments.”

A tutor is a university officer who is responsible for teaching and supervising undergraduates in small groups or privately. Sometimes the term is used for a graduate adviser.

A Unit of Assessment refers to a subject or an area of study. For example, Politics and International Studies on the RAE is described as: “Comparative, area, national and sub-national politics; public administration and policy studies, including science and technology policy; political behaviour and political sociology, including gender; political theory and philosophy, including history of political thought; international relations, including strategic, war and peace studies, international political economy and foreign policy analysis; methods in political studies, and HE pedagogic research.”

(These definitions were compiled from some websites, the Ledbetter diary, and conversations held among NAFA travelers. Dr. Stephen Prickett, Director of the Armstrong-Browning Library at Baylor and a citizen of Britain, spoke with me regarding several of these terms, cautioning me that there are no hard and fast rules with usage of many of these words.)

Appendix C: Finding the Right Postgraduate Course of Study in the UK

Most of the information you will need [in order to find the right postgraduate course of study] is publicly available through the world-wide-web and can be accessed through HERO, the new site including the former National Information Services and Systems site athttp://www.hero.ac.uk/studying/course_information3106.cfm

  1. Decide on the subject area that interests you and whether you wish to take a taught course or study for a postgraduate qualification by research.
  2. Look at the postgraduate PROSPECTS databases, giving details of all taught courses and research opportunities at UK universities: http://www.prospects.csu.ac.uk

This web-site also provides some useful background information for international students wanting to come to the UK.

  1. The web-site can be searched by INSTITUTION, by SUBJECT, or by KEY WORDS. This allows you either to select where you would like to study and then see what they offer; or to select what you would like to study and see where it is available; or to search the database using a few key words to see what combination of locations and subjects are available.

4… Each entry on the database provides you with some basic information about the course and the institution you have selected, including costs and how to apply, but there is much more information available…….

  1. Every university has its own web site and a full list of these is available at http://www.hero.ac.uk/universities_and_colleges/listing.cfm These web sites are not all the same, but by exploring them intelligently you can usually find a full prospectus for the course you are interested in and lots more information about the institution and the staff who will teach or supervise your course. You should be able to judge from this whether it is the right one for you or not.
  2. You can also get independent assessments of the quality of teaching and research in most subject areas at most universities as follows:

6.1 The outcomes of independent teaching quality assessments are published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and are available on http://www.qaa.ac.uk/revreps/subjrev/intro.htm . This is quite a complex site but with some exploration you should be able to find the information you want about the courses you are interested in. If you wish to compare different institutions offering similar courses, look first at the “subject overview reports” (http://www.qaa.ac.uk/revreps/subjrev/overviews.htm ). These usually have a summary table near the end of the report that can help identify the “best” institutions. Then look at the full subject reports for individual institutions at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/revreps/subjrev/byinstname.htm .

6.2 The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), is carried out every five years to evaluate the research published by most Departments in UK universities. The results are published by the Higher Education Funding Councils on their web-site at http://www.hero.ac.uk/rae/Results/

6.3 . Again, this is quite a complex site but with a bit of effort you should be able to find the information you need.

  1. Having looked at all these sites you will probably have found one or more courses that will suit you. If you want more information about any of these do not be afraid to e-mail or telephone the staff member responsible for them, with specific questions you want answered. Most academics are only too happy to talk to prospective students about their courses and encourage them to join!
  2. Two things that may be of concern to you, and to the providers of postgraduate courses in the UK, are your level of English, if you are not a native speaker, and your existing qualifications.

8.1 If your understanding and use of English is not up to the appropriate level, you will have great difficulty in following your course, discussing topics with your tutors, and writing a dissertation or thesis for examination at the end of it. You may therefore have to withdraw from the course, or you may fail to get your qualification, both of which are of no benefit to anybody. You are therefore likely to be asked to demonstrate your competence in English before you are accepted onto a course. This is usually done by taking an IELTS (International English Language Testing Scheme) test, which can be arranged by most British Council offices.

8.2 If you are uncertain about whether your existing qualifications will be accepted for entry onto a particular course, you should discuss this with the course leader. They or the university’s International Office should be able to establish the “equivalence” of your qualifications in the UK and decide whether they are adequate for entry to the course. If you would like to establish the equivalence of your qualifications for yourself, you can do this through the National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC). Details of their services are available on http://www.naric.org.uk .

Robert Monro, Higher Education Adviser, British Council, December 2001

(Note: I have updated several url addresses that have changed since Dr. Monro first sent this helpful document to NAFA. Dr. Monro invited NAFA members to reproduce this chart if they find it useful to their students. EV 01/13/04)


[1] For example, 85 percent of Rhodes Scholars now take graduate programs at Oxford. Two one-year Master’s degrees, such as Law and Environment combine well for some students on two-year fellowships such as the Marshall. Other students may elect to follow a one-year Master’s degree with a year of supervised research.

[2] See Glossary, Appendix B.

[3] In order to present as accurately as possible the materials as they were provided to us during the trip, I have relied heavily on a resource which many of the NAFA travelers have valued greatly. It is a detailed diary of the substance of the meetings held during week one in London, Cambridge, and Oxford. NAFA is deeply indebted to Dr. Mary Lee Ledbetter of Holy Cross University, who graciously shared her notes with the group. Her 29-page record (!) of week one is printed in full in the 2003 NAFA conference notebook, Beyond Winning: National Competitions and the Student Experience. Insights from that document are quoted throughout this document with parenthetical page references to the full text in the NAFA notebook. The web references, where needed, have been updated.

[4] The history of and explanation of the assessment process is found at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/revreps/subjrev/assessingquality.htm and states that six aspects of a program are graded on a four-point assessment scale (1 to 4), in ascending order of merit: “Curriculum Design, Content and Organization; Teaching, Learning and Assessment; Student Progression and Achievement ; Student Support and Guidance; Learning Resources; and Quality Management and Enhancement . A 24 is highest score possible on a TQA.

[5] Mr. Donald McLeod, who helped produce the Guardian League Tables 2002, reminded us that the league tables are set for taught courses, not research courses. The Guardian receives over a million hits a month on the League Tables website.

[6] Fully appreciative of the detail with which these grids are designed and implemented to evaluate teaching and research, Dr. Monro quipped at one point, “Only the British could devise a seven point system that ran from 1 to 5.”

[7] For full details on Monro’s description of the Prospects website, see Appendix B.

[8] Shameless copying of ideas on Pomona website.

[9] These notes were taken during an overview summary of English higher education given by Dr. David Van de Linde, Vice Chancellor of Warwick University. Professor Van de Linde also noted that among those universities that had been granted “old” status were universities created in the 1960s, including Warwick, Bath, Sussex, and Surrey.

[10] There notes were based on a presentation by Mary Denyer of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, who spoke about the Marshall. Many NAFA members agreed with Ms. Denyer’s point that we need to encourage students to research their subjects and program beyond the “golden triangle” of London, Oxford, and Cambridge. Several NAFA members said this insight was one of the most important understandings they gained during the trip.

[11] The culinary skills of Oxford Brookes professionals received a 5* rating from NAFA members, who were given a delicious sample of delights from the gourmet kitchen at a beautiful luncheon.

[12] Beatrice Merrick, Director of Services for the UKCOSA provided the overview of UKCOSA—which has kept the UKCOSA acronym despite the change of official name to The Center for International Education. Helpful links to internet sites for British Council, EducationUK, Higher Education and Research Opportunities (HERO) and others can be found at http://www.ukcosa.org.uk/pages/studentlinks.htm The 28 pamphlets (ranging in topics from practical tips to immigration to finances) are found at http://www.ukcosa.org.uk/pages/guidenote.htm#choose

[13] The pamphlet Sources of Funding for International Students details scholarship options, including the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme (ORSAS), and can be downloaded at http://www.ukcosa.org.uk/images/studyuk.pdf

[14] Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964, p. 89.