Higher and Further Education in Britain

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Higher and Further Education in Britain


There are now 44 universities in the United Kingdom: 35 in England, 8 in Scotland, 2 in Northern Ireland and one in Wales. All British universities are private, that is not state-controlled institutions. Each has its own governing council, including some local businessmen and politicians as well as afew academics. Students have to pay fees and living costs, but every student may receive a personal grant from the local author­ity of the place where he lives.

British universities can be divided roughly into three main groups: the old universities; the redbrick universities, which include all the provincial universities of the period 1850-1930, as well as London University; the new universities, founded since the Second World War.

In the group of old universities Oxford (1167) and Cambridge (1209) are the oldest ones. Although they have to­gether less than a tenth of the whole student population (each having about 12,000 students), they have special pre-eminence. A number of well-known scientists and writers, among them Newton, Darwin and Byron, were educated in Cambridge. Until the 19th century, Oxford and Cambridge were the only universities in England, and there was no place for girls. At present there are 5 women's colleges.

These two universities differ greatly from all the others in general organization, methods of instructions, syllabuses, traditions, history, etc. They are based on colleges (law, music, natural science, economics, agriculture, engineering, commerce, education, etc.), each college having about 300 students.

The teachers there are commonly called “dons”. Part of the teaching is by means of lectures organized by the university. Apart from lectures teaching is carried out by tutorial system, for which these two universities have al­ways been famous. This is a system of individual tuition organized by the colleges, each tutor being responsible for the progress of the students. The students go to the tutor's room once every week to read and discuss essays which they have prepared.

The typical academic programme for university students in Great Britain is composed of a varying number of courses or subjects. The academic obligations for each subject fall into three broad types. Lectures, at which attend­ance is not always compulsory, often outline the general scope of the subject matter and stress the particular spe­cialization of the lecturer. Tutorials, through individual or group discussion, reading extensively, and writing essays under the tutor's direction, ensure focused and in-depth understanding of the subject.

Examinations on each subject require the student to consolidate his knowledge of the subject, which he has gained through lectures, discussions and a great deal of independent study. These three categories of academic activity–lectures, tutorials and examinations–provide the means by which students prepare themselves in specialized fields of knowledge in British universities.

The course of study at a university lasts three or four years. In general Bachelor's degree, the first academic de­gree, is given to the students who pass their examination at the end of the course: Bachelor of Arts, for history, philosophy, language and literature, etc., Bachelor of Science or Commerce or Music.

In 1971 the Open University was set up for the people who do not have time or the qualifications to study at a conventional university. The students of the Open University need to study about ten hours a week, to write essays, and to prepare for exams. There are weekly Open University lectures broadcast on BBC television and radio. The final mark is based on the exam and the written assign­ments done during the year. It takes six (or eight) years to get a degree. One who gets a degree may have a better job, higher pay or post-graduate studies. Some universities have extra-mural departments.

Besides universities there are 30 polytechnics, numerous colleges for more specialized needs, such as agriculture, accountancy, art and design and law, a few hundred techni­cal colleges providing part-time and full-time education.


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