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Higher Education in Great Britain
Higher education in Great Britain is mostly provided by the Universities. At present there are more than 100 universities in Britain. All British universities are private institutions and enjoy complete academic freedom, appointing their own staff and deciding which students to admit. The admission to the universities is by examinations and interviews. The universities determine the length and the content of their courses. However they receive financial support from the state.
The first universities were set up in medieval times, including Oxford (1167), Cambridge (1209), St. Andrew’s (1413), Glasgow (1451), Edinburgh (1582). The two oldest universities in the United Kingdom are Oxford and Cambridge. Both universities comprise many buildings of great beauty and antiquity, near slow-moving rivers suitable for rowing and punting. Oxford and Cambridge have a great deal in common. Each university has more than 30 self-governing colleges and over 20 000 students. The universities are world class in teaching and research in both arts and science subjects.
Central to academic life at Oxford and Cambridge is the tutorial, which is an hour-long meeting between one to three students and their tutor. A great advantage of the tutorial system is the individual attention that students receive. Although there may be one tutorial a week, students are required to spend many hours independently preparing for this and must come to the tutorial fully ready. Undergraduates are usually expected to present an essay, solutions to a set of problems, or some other project. The tutor’s role is to assess this work and, through discussion, help undergraduates to think critically and creatively about their chosen subject. This personal tuition enables students to explore course material in much greater depth than lectures allow and to clarify anything students are not clear about.
The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (or Oxbridge, as they are jointly called) have produced a large number of the world’s most prominent scientists, writers and politicians, including Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Oscar Wilde, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Bill Clinton and many others.
The largest university in the country is London University which was founded in 1828. It is made up of a great variety of colleges with 120,000 students.
The rapid growth of the cities in the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century resulted in the establishment of the so-called ‘red brick’ universities. The origin of the word ‘red brick’ comes from the popular building material of that time. Examples include Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and others. These universities were created to fill local needs, the emphasis was placed on the study of science and technology. Currently they offer a full range of courses.
Higher education in Britain considerably expanded in the 1960s. New campus-based universities were set up at Essex, York, Kent, Lancaster and other cities. The creation of the Open University in 1969 marked the new era in higher education. The Open University is a world leader in modern distance learning. It enables people to study at times and in places to suit them. Information and communication technology plays a big part in the OU study. Students are provided with interactive teaching and multimedia materials. Tutors offer support to students by e-mail and computer conferencing.
An academic year in Britain usually starts in autumn and is divided into three terms. A typical university consists of a number of faculties: Arts, Education, Social Sciences and Law, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Medicine and Health and others. At the head of each faculty there is a professor. All universities offer students a wide variety of accommodation in the halls of residence, located on the campuses and surrounding areas. Every University has a Students’ Union which organizes recreational activities for students.
The main teaching and assessment methods in British universities are: lectures, laboratory practicals, seminars, tutorials, e-learning, projects and examinations. Engineering degree courses are available in the great majority of UK universities. Most courses last three or four years. The majority of undergraduate degrees are offered as a three-year BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) or four-year MEng (Master of Engineering). One-year postgraduate MSc (Master of Science) degree in specialist fields is also common. UK qualifications in engineering are recognized worldwide.