Higher Education Glossary

3 min read

Wendy Jane Herbert

When it comes to navigating the world of higher education, it's very easy to get lost in the complicated terminology. It gets even trickier when you notice the vast differences in various institutions around the world. Each country has a unique approach to higher education and the courses they offer. Even countries and regions with the largest number of higher education students, like the US, UK, and China, are so different from each other.

Their differences might be as insignificant as the length of their school years, the US has two semesters and the UK three, to really crucial distinctions like their grading systems. In some instances, the differences are cultural and have a big impact on the experience a student has while studying. Think about the rich history of mascots and sports teams associated with many US colleges which have similarity in other countries. Watch our latest webinar which gives you more insight into this.

It's no wonder that you're often left confused when trying to find their similarities.

There are three main areas China, the US and UK differ in:

  1. Tricky Terminology

China has a large student population to educate with nearly 20 million students in total. There are government and private institutions available that fall roughly into the category of a university or as part of their Adult Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). China has some of the best universities in the world which attracts many foreign students. The government places a lot of emphasis on economic growth and all universities are geared towards qualifying students quickly and effectively. Of course, this has its advantages and disadvantages.

In the US, higher ed is either a community college, a liberal arts college, or a college with an affiliated university. A college is an institution usually responsible for undergraduate courses and a university is one for postgraduate courses. Many college courses are offered online, along with a variety of practical, specialized degrees and certificates. The prestigious and competitive Ivy League colleges may have the word college in their names but are structured more like universities.

A region like the UK has a long history of very traditional universities, think Oxford and Cambridge. When it comes to higher ed, there is a lot of standardization, much more than the big differences they have in first and secondary schools. Universities are the standard institutions, offering everything from undergraduate to Ph.D. programs. Private colleges are smaller and tend to offer more practical skills and degrees. To meet the ever-growing demand, the Open University in the UK offers a variety of courses that can be taken entirely online.

  1. Different Degrees

If we focus further on China, the US, and the UK, one of the biggest differences is the types of degrees and qualifications each country offers. Almost no two institutions are the same. There are some similarities when it comes to degrees, master's programs, and doctorates, but diplomas, certificates, and qualification-based degrees vary greatly from country to country. What a course is called is not as important as how it is recognized around the world. Before choosing an institute, find out if the qualification is recognized by international bodies.

  1. Grading Systems

The differences in examination and grading systems begin at first and secondary school levels. By the time students are ready to enter tertiary education, they are almost always at very different levels across the globe. Each institution has its requirements and decides the level of education a student needs before they qualify for entry.

For students in the UK, passing their GCSEs at secondary school is the equivalent of certain diploma-based qualifications in the US. A student can qualify with an Honors Degree in the UK but it is the equivalent of just a four-year Bachelor Degree in the US. Similarly, the Grade Point Average (GPA) is used as a way of aggregating the standard for all US college-goers. It might be the backbone of US higher ed but it’s not used in other countries. Students need to find out about the standard of education at each institution before choosing which school to enroll at. 

With so many options available to students, it becomes interesting to note what motivates each of them to choose the country or institution they go on to study at. There are so many factors that go into these critical decisions. Recently, we surveyed students on this very topic. Take a look here at the really helpful insights we were able to gather from it.

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