Compare and Contrast the UK And US Higher Education System

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According to the global university rankings that were compiled by the Times Higher Education, three-quarters of the 200 world top universities are located in either the UK or the US. Hence, both countries share a strong tradition of quality higher education, a culture that promotes intellectualism compounded with academic freedom. They also have excellent research facilities at their disposal. Moreover, they both use trimester, semester and quarter educational system. However, while both the two counties provide an excellent environment for their education system, still there are many differences between the two countries about the structures of the university education system as well as student lives. They include:

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University Organization

Most of the universities in the UK are made up of colleges that are designed to a particular discipline (Cohen, 2007 pg. 46). While the universities govern such colleges, every college maintains a significant autonomy from one another as well as from the University. Rather than applying by the central university admissions like one would do in the US, in the UK in the case of college admission, one can apply directly to the college. However, in case one is seeking undergraduate programs, one is to apply through a centralised system which allows an individual to apply to many colleges at once. However, one must be specific on the subject he or she wishes to study. On the other hand, in the United States, one applies to a larger university (Machin and Vignoles, 2006, p62). From the first year or more, one study courses from various fields only to major to declare a major either at the end of the first year or the beginning of the second year.

Academic terms

Most of the US universities begin their terms in August. Also, most of them take lengthy breaks during mid-December while they start their second semester in January. On the other hand, the UK academic term varies. Many colleges and universities begin in September and end in June hence, longer academic year than in the US.


British universities cost less than United States universities. For instance, British citizens paid a maximum of $4,800 per academic year while the average yearly tuition fees in American universities is $7,020 (Marginson, 2006, P20).

Enrollment Statistics in the UK and US

`Approximately, 2,300,000 students enrol in the UKs higher education in every year. The statistics represent 3.5% of its total population. On the other hand, about 17,500,000 students enrol in the United States universities and colleges every year. The number of the enrolling students represent 5.5% of the countrys total population. About 95% of college adults in the US are registered in a higher education system while approximately 60% of college age students have admission to colleges and universities in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the total rate higher education degrees is almost similar in both countries. That is, 42% of adults up to the age of 64 years are degree holders compared to the 44 percentage of adult degree holders in the United States.

Grading System

In the United States, grades are determined by both mid-term and final exams accompanied by periodic written assignments and quizzes. A student then accumulates average grades during his or her degree program. The grade could point to an average GDA which is stated out of a maximum of 4 points an equivalent to A. However, some universities may award A plus and minus grades. What makes its grading system more confusing, is that the United States universities and colleges sometimes make student grades from a rounding curve. In the curve, the top students have A grades while the bottom students have F grades regardless of the students actual percentage score during the examination. Just like in the United States, the grading system in the UK universities is not linear. However, it is quite straight forward as compared to that of the United States. In the UK, the highest degree is referred to as a First Class Honors.

The next grade is the Second Class Honors degree. It is divided into Upper Division vice versa. It also acts as the minimum requirement for to gain admission into masters degree programs and training programs.

Graduation Rates

In the US, approximately 30% of the entire higher education students drop out occur during their first years or after their first years of college or university studies. However, colleges and universities in the UK retain many of their students as compared to higher education institutions in the US. The dropout rate in the UK is at a low level of 6% per annum since 2010. Therefore, 40% of students who start their first level bachelors degree in the US are likely to drop out before graduation while most students beginning their degree programs will accomplish their degree studies with a dropout rate below 1%.

Higher Education Impacts on Career

In the United States, higher education is perceived as a requirement to land a productive and lucrative career. However, the earning differences between college and university degree holders are stark in the US. The average worker in the US who holds a bachelors degree has an annual earnings of $45,000. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, tertiary education is seen as an avenue to acquire a specialty career but not as a big milestone necessary for any form of career (Whitchurch, 2008 p 126). Moreover, an average worker who has a higher education degree has annual earnings of $44,000 as compared to $32,000 earnings of an individual who lacks a tertiary degree which represents a 30% pay gap.


In conclusion, both the United Kingdom and the US have a fine higher education system with an excellent learning environment and research programs. It explains why tertiary institutions from both countries dominate in the global ranking. Also, in both countries, career attainment is the reason for acquiring higher education. Moreover, both systems have a nonlinear form of grading. However, the United States have tertiary education enrolment than the UK. Unfortunately, the US experiences higher drop out than its counterpart. Finally, the cost of higher learning in the United States is much greater than in the United Kingdom.


Cohen, A.M., 2007. The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the

Contemporary system. John Wiley & Sons.

Machin, S. and Vignoles, A., 2006. Education Policy in the UK. CEE DP 57. Centre for the Economics of Education. London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE, UK.

Marginson, S., 2006. Dynamics of national and global competition in higher education. Higher

education, 52(1), pp.1-39.

Whitchurch, C., 2008. Shifting identities and blurring boundaries: The emergence of third space

professionals in UK higher education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), pp.377-396.

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