The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an island nation in northern Europe, with a well-known sporting, cultural and educational scene.
Over the course of history, the United Kingdom established itself as a seafaring state with a strong navy and trade shipping routes. By the start of the twentieth century, the UK had amassed the largest empire the world has ever seen, covering almost a quarter of the globe’s inhabitable land. Though this empire was dismantled after the Second World War, the UK maintains a strong relationship with many of its former colonies through the Commonwealth of Nations.
The UK also retains a constitutional monarchy, which famously has its primary residence in Buckingham Palace in London. In 2015 Elizabeth II became the longest reigning British monarch in history.
The UK’s top two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, are both expansive collegiates that are some of the oldest higher learning institutions in existence, and consistently rank in the top five universities worldwide. Since 1998 universities in the UK have charged tuition fees, usually at a higher rate for international students.
In 2016 a referendum was held in which the UK voted to leave the European Union. The effect that this decision will have on international students both inside the EU and out remains a point of contention within the UK Parliament and beyond.
Famous sons and daughters of the United Kingdom from history include Celtic warrior Boudica, settler of the New World Walter Raleigh and poet Robert Burns, while among current famous faces are singer Adele, Olympic champion Mo Farah, and multiple Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis.
Top 5 universities in the UK
One of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Oxford attracts top scholars and students to its 44 colleges and halls. Entry standards are high and admission is competitive; on average, it receives five applications for each available place.
As is common in the UK, the university offers a number of joint honors programmes that combine two subjects at undergraduate level. In total, there are 250 undergraduate degree combinations. The combination of philosophy, politics, and economics is a particularly prestigious degree course on offer, although it is no longer unique to the University of Oxford.
Undergraduates and postgraduates belong to a college and often live in the college building or college-owned accommodation. Social life and recreational activities – such as rowing, cultural events, and societies – also revolve around the college. Undergraduates are taught almost exclusively by tutors in their college, while postgraduate students are primarily served academically by a centralized faculty.
There are more than 100 libraries at Oxford, the most famous of which is the Bodleian, built in 1602. The city also boasts a number of museums, including the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which houses the remains of a dodo, and the Museum of the History of Science, which displays a blackboard used by Albert Einstein.
More than 30 world leaders, 27 British prime ministers, 29 Nobel Laureates and 160 Olympic medallists were educated at Oxford. Stephen Hawking, Hugh Grant, and Indira Gandhi are among the most famous alumni.
Within six months of graduating from the university, 95 percent of Oxford students are in employment or further study.
Like Oxford, the University of Cambridge is fundamentally collegiate and is also one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. The town is just an hour away from London.
The university is home to more than 18,000 students and 9,000 staff. There are 31 colleges, some of which date back to the 13th century, and more than 100 academic departments.
Cambridge is particularly renowned for excellence in mathematics and has educated some of the most famous British scientists. In total, 116 Nobel Laureates are affiliated with the university, and Cambridge-affiliated mathematicians have won 11 Fields Medals.
Getting an undergraduate place at the university is extremely competitive; the acceptance rate is less than 25 percent and more than half of rejected candidates go on to receive A grades for all their final school exams.
Undergraduates are taught via lectures and supervisions – intimate tutorials with only a couple of other students at most. The workload is heavy but terms are shorter than at many other universities in the UK.
Cambridge libraries are home to extensive collections of medieval manuscripts and the university museums display collections of archaeological artifacts and zoological specimens.
Notable graduates include actors, politicians, royals, athletes and cultural figures.
Imperial College London is consistently ranked among the best universities in the world for science, technology, engineering, medicine and business.
It was formed in 1907 from a merger of three colleges in London and now has 15,200 students and 8,000 staff. The student cohort is extremely international and is made up of more than 125 nationalities.
In addition to top scientists, Fields medallists, and Nobel prizewinners, Imperial also produces influential government advisers and policymakers. Many graduates go on to achieve breakthrough innovations in industry and business and are highly sought after by blue-chip companies and start-ups.
Imperial is based next to Kensington Palace in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with other campuses around the city.
The author H. G. Wells and Sir Liam Donaldson, head physician to the Queen, are among Imperial’s famous alumni.
University College London (UCL) was the first university in England to admit students irrespective of class, race or religion, and the first to admit women on equal terms with men, following the educational philosophy of Jeremy Bentham – the university’s “spiritual founder”.
It is one of the most selective British universities and is thought to produce some of the most employable graduates.
UCL’s main campus is in the central London area of Bloomsbury.
For undergraduate admission, candidates generally have all A grades at A-level or a grade equivalent of 6, 6, 6 in subjects studied at a higher level in the International Baccalaureate. The most competitive degree is the BSc in philosophy, politics, and economics, which receives 30 applicants for every place.
Close to half of all UCL students are from outside the UK, with significantly more from Asia than from continental Europe. Famous alumni include Mahatma Gandhi; Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone; and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who met the other members of his band at the university.
Of all UK universities, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has the highest proportion of international students, at 70 percent.
The university has particular strengths in law, economics, history, philosophy, and politics. Currently, 26 percent of all Nobel prizes for economics was awarded to alumni or affiliates of the LSE. Famously, economic theorists at the LSE have long disputed with theorists at Cambridge, particularly over solutions to economic problems in society.
LSE’s campus is in the Clare Market area, close to important institutions such as the Royal Courts of Justice, Lincoln’s Inn, the Royal College of Surgeons and the British Museum.
In 2014, the university received 17,000 undergraduate applications for 1,500 places. Like other top universities in the UK, the LSE generally requires entry standards of A grades or higher.
Many of the postgraduate courses, such as in those in economics, management, and law, have an acceptance rate of less than 7 percent.
Prominent cultural, political and academic figures, including Nelson Mandela and George Soros, have given public lectures at the LSE as part of the university’s prestigious lecture series.
The main architect of the Indian constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, worked on a doctoral thesis at the LSE while enrolled on the Bar course at Gray’s Inn in London.