London by Michael Flatt

School and Classes

Studying abroad not only allows a student to experience a foreign environment, but it also introduces him or her to an entirely new educational system. For instance, in the US the terms “college” and “university” are used interchangeably to mean a higher level of education, but this is not true in the UK as “university” is the only appropriate term. Furthermore, an undergraduate degree in the UK only requires students to take three years of schooling whereas in the US undergraduate degrees usually take four to five years to complete. This page is intended to give students an overview of the higher education system in the UK and how it compares with the structure present in America.

Philosophy

The fundamental difference between the UK and the US educational system lies in their vision for students. In the UK, administrators encourage students from an early age to specialize in a chosen area of study because at the University level they are expected to only study within one field of interest. For example, a Business Management major in the UK is not required to take general electives such as Communications and History at the beginning of University level education. On the other hand, students in the US are required to enroll in academic subjects outside their major for the first two years of college education. This is mandated across both public and private schools. Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses; the UK’s vision is narrower but allows students to take more classes in their major, while students in the US take a variety of unrelated classes that attempt to cultivate a better-rounded individual.

These structural differences extend to class deliverance. In the US, on average you attend lecture classes two to three times per week so it was a nice change because in the UK, each module (another word for class) consists of one lecture plus one seminar (on the same day) per week. Lectures were about an hour in length and consisted of the professor discussing a particular topic for the duration of the class. Students do not normally interact with the lecturer unless they have a particular question that needs answering. However, after the lecture the class breaks into smaller sections with a tutor (who may or may not be your lecturer) to hold a “seminar.” The advantage of this approach is the tutors are able to take all of the information from the lecture and dissect it into smaller parts in a small classroom with 10-12 students. I enjoyed this aspect of British education for two reasons. One, in a smaller classroom students are able to interact more with each other and the professor; this creates a better learning environment. And two, I appreciated the constant practice of analyzing real-world case studies in small groups. This helped me to apply (and retain) the information I learned in lecture.

Grading System

The grading system is also significantly different than what I was accustomed to in the US. They grade on a 70% scale instead of a 100% scale, which can make grade calculations difficult. Below I was provided with the following grading scale for US students.

Grading Scale for US Study Abroad Students:
UK Percentage
London Met Grade
US Grade
68+%
A
A
64 - 67%
B
A-
60 - 63%
B
B+
55 - 59%
C
B
50 - 54%
C
B-
47 - 49%
D
C+
43 - 46%
D
C
38 - 42%
F
C-

Not only is the grading scale different, but instead of turning assignments in to the professor to be graded, students have to submit them to an “assessment office” that handles the grading (called “marking”) of coursework. All assignments and exams are graded by a panel of professors, which is an attempt at providing a system of checks and balances for student grades. So when you submit an assignment or take an exam you will not know your grade for several weeks. Once your lecturer grades your paper, it is then passed on to another professor for a second grading. If there is any inconsistency between grades the professors will convene and bring in a third person, if necessary.

Testing Method

The British system is highly self-driven. Professors do not create mini-deadlines or midterm examinations to keep you on track of your studies like their US counterparts. While professors will let you know early on when all assignments are due, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to stay up-to-date with class material. In every class, I was given an extensive reading list of books and other resources to focus on throughout the semester when completing assignments and studying for final exams. I would recommend using this to your advantage because the most common testing method in the UK is the essay format, which requires students to understand the material thoroughly. In this format, students are given a selection of three questions and must write a response to one or two. The questions are made available in advance of the exam and this gives students the freedom to determine the actual material they will be tested on in the exam.

Naturally, this led to class work being less intensive compared with American colleges. There are no multiple choice tests administered and most of the work is done outside of the classroom. Overall, I grew to appreciate the British educational system because sometimes in the US there is more pressure to just memorize the material instead of taking the time to really grasp the concepts.

London Metropolitan University

Higher education in the UK has been renowned for its ability to maintain distinguished standards in all fields of study. During the spring semester, I studied at London Metropolitan University (London Met), a notorious UK business university. While London Met is fairly new (est. 2002), it is currently the largest “single university” in London with over 30,000 students. Furthermore, London Met is an international school committed to having a diverse student body, with over 7,000 overseas students from more than 155 different countries. In fact, by the time the semester was over I had befriended more Germans and Scandinavians than Britons. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn business from a new perspective, I was also able to become a more globalized citizen by interacting with other students from various regions of the world.

 The University is based in Central London and consists of two campuses: North and City. North, the main campus, is located in Islington via the Holloway Road tube station. The city campus is spread around the City of London and can be accessed via the Aldgate, Aldgate East, and Moorgate Tube Stations. The business building, where I attended class, is located at Moorgate. I made my schedule where I attended class at both campuses, but on separate days. If this is also the case for you, I suggest taking all your classes at the same campus each day you have class. If you have back-to-back classes at North and then City campus, it would be too difficult to arrive on time for your second class. I took 12 units of business classes, which was San Diego State's requirement. Although, I usually take more hours in the US this was a perfect schedule for me as I only attended classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This allowed me to have 4 day weekends if I wanted to travel or sightsee. Looking back on my experience, the four classes I took at London Met had a much greater impact on my education than if I would have taken them at home. This can be true for you, too.

There are several other things I would like to mention. Emirates Stadium, home to the Arsenal football club, is located at North Campus. Although tickets are hard to acquire, I would highly recommend trying to attend at least one football match. I managed to attend an Arsenal vs. Cardiff match through a German friend. They have a brand new stadium and the atmosphere is really fantastic. A great way to meet other students at London Met is by attending social events at The Rocket (a student lounge that hosts many parties and social events). It too, is located at the North campus. Every university in the UK has a student union like The Rocket.

London Met Library

There are libraries at both North and City campus. The collections are adequate, but since they close early on the weekdays (9 PM) and even earlier on the weekends (Saturday at 4 PM, and Sunday at 5 PM on North campus while closed on Sundays at City), it was often difficult to access their facilities for an extended period of time. Plus, there was always a wait for using the computers too. So for me personally, I only used the library to check out reading material.

Academic Calendar

If you’re trying to decide between studying abroad in the fall or spring, it is worth noting that the spring semester is a slightly longer term. Below was my academic calendar for the spring 2009 semester:

Arrival:
January 26, 2009*
Orientation:
January 27 –
January 30
Classes begin:
February 2
Spring break:
April 6 – April 17
Classes end:
May 8
Examinations:
May 11 – May 22
Departure:
May 23

*You have the option of arriving earlier, but you will have to find your own accommodation until this date.  You cannot check in early.

Also, take note that spring break is two weeks long in the UK.  This is the best time to travel and have your family and friends visit.  And finally, final exam schedules are usually not posted until the month before finals (April for spring, November for fall), so don’t fret over not knowing the days of your finals. They are taken over a two week period, but if this conflicts with your flight home the university will allow you to turn in the final early. This happened to me as I was attending summer school back in the states and my last final would overlap. They were very accommodating to help me.