19 May, 2016

Differences between higher education systems US vs UK

I came across this interesting webpage, it's aimed at people looking at higher education in the UK and USA and comes up with some enlightening differences that I've summarised below (understanding that I've not experienced either system personally). 
Not directly related to the article, but fun anyway. Our
eldest will turn 17 this month. That was a huge year
for me—the year that I finished high school,
got my licence, moved out of home, and started
uni. This photo was taken later in the year I started uni,
my first car! I can't believe, though, that I'll soon have a
17 year old in my house!

Length of time to finish a degree
US takes generally a year longer than in the UK (barring Scotland where a bachelor degree is four years). "Courses are shorter in the UK because the course programs are generally much more focused than in the US." The same would go for Australia. US degrees include a lot of general stuff not specific to the degree you end up with. They believe in a well-rounded education. 
The curriculum of many undergraduate programs is based on a “liberal arts” philosophy in which students are required to study courses from a range of subjects to form a broad educational foundation. These general education courses include study in English composition, social sciences, humanities, history, mathematics and natural or physical sciences. (from here)
I, for example, did a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy. From day one we were studying anatomy, psychology, human development etc., not history or English. The only maths we did was statistics in psychology.

Academic term
The calendars are different. The UK system is not as standardised across the country and of course doesn't have a Thanksgiving holiday. Australia is different again, starting in February and ending in November, generally using a two-semester system, sometimes including a third semester during the summer for those who want to get ahead.

University organisation
This relates to depth (UK) vs breath (US), but also how you apply to get into a university. I'll leave you to read the article if you're interested.

US is generally higher even for locals. The government has some control over the ceiling of fees in the UK, but in the US it's much more varied.

Both countries provide residence halls in which to live. They are similar, except that in the UK students generally have a bedroom themselves (that was my experience in Australia) but in the US it is common to have at least one other person you share with. There are apparently differences in catering too. It seems to me that the ratio of students living in residential situations in Australia is quite low compared to the UK and US (though I have no stats to compare). 

This is a big difference I see between Australia and the US system. The US has constant assignments, whereas the UK might have a couple or none at all, just an exam at the end.

US based on overall performance on everything, UK based mostly on the final exam.

We're not intending that any of our kids go to either country for higher education, at least not first-up. If they decide to go there later, that's their choice. But this is interesting to me because our kids are in an American-style school where many if not more of their peers will end up in the US tertiary education system. The Australian tertiary system is closer to the UK system than the US system, though, from what I understand, quite different from both in the high school years.

I occasionally hear people who've never moved out of their passport culture complain about education choices and how hard it is. I generally restrain myself from telling them of how challenging it can be if you live cross-culturally! There are many more factors to consider and sometimes less choice isn't necessarily good.

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